Archy Marshall was welcomed to the land of critical favor by the time he’d finished uploading a string of singles to the internet during the first half of 2010. His immediate grab was, and continues to be, his guttural tenor that spills emotion from his slight, pale, now-19-year-old frame by the bucketful, while sounding at least occasionally like he’s gargling a frog. The dissonance between his appearance and vocality results in the kind of freakish intrigue that a 170 lb. Tim Lincecum throwing a 100 m.p.h. fastball, or a 5’9″ Nate Robinson windmill commands. In this Youtube curiosity sort of way, he’s brought in a sizable grouping of followers though his intelligently-channeled angst and cold maturity have shown listeners that he’s far more than a novelty.
His formal debut album as King Krule, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon, is an explosion of all his effective attributes tuned for melodic precision, making for the most colorful output in his young career. This is a mixed blessing, since the moments when he’s able to capture grainy black-and-white sentiment are still his best. There was a certain charm lost on the trip from janky bedroom setup to professional-grade studio: the tinny reverb and oddball electronic additions helped shape Marshall’s image, playing into his beautiful weirdo world. This is hardly the fault of a big-show engineer, especially one that has glossy credits like The xx to his name as 6FBTM co-producer Rodaidh McDonald does. Telling him not to use his tools to make an artist sound crisp and clear is like telling Jiro to sashimi with a butter knife for cred; this is perhaps more of an over thinking of production choices. The effect can be heard very literally on the Bandcamp singles Marshall chose to reprise for the album, most notably “A Lizard State” and “Has This Hit?” Though some updated tidbits remain, Marshall’s quirky laptop antics on the originals drew a more complete picture of his personality, and presented a more appropriately frayed frame for his stories. If anything positive comes from the separation of production duties, it’s that it leaves an even bigger opening for a full DJ JD Sports (Marshall’s beat making alter ego) project.
The cleanliness of the recording ends up clouding Marshall’s vision only slightly, however, and the new Krule songs, especially with no alternate versions to compare them to, are largely successful. Through this all, the young Londoner is able to shine his dark light with astounding poignancy. He’s a storyteller first, or a detailed teller of emotions, and beneath the facade of careless musings are the arduously written poems of a clear-headed young man in a turbulent time. The best stories are ones told without much telling, and Marshall uses crude imagery and twisted phrasing (“See, the cement has never meant so much/my heart, head cools to the stone cold touch/I look to settle my seed with the dust/brain leave me be, can’t you see that these eyes are shut?”) to project his experiences, real and imagined, into the recordings. His wispy jazz guitar and slow-rolling piano wanders the stage quietly behind his alternately valiant and vulnerable tenor, rambling about feeling dead inside, love lost and “fat bitches” with equal feeling. His presence is endearing to say the least; he’s your friend or your child spilling his soul on each song, and you feel closer to him after each line. The fact that “Easy Easy” is the lead single, and not a song with potential crossover appeal like “Neptune Estate” is testament to the fact that Krule’s personality is the hook on the end of the wire.
At this point, Marshall is one of the most naturally gifted songwriters on the scene, and 6FBTM is solid evidence of that. There are more than a few songs here that will stand the test of time, and remind us years from now of the time in his career when he was only getting started.