Many things have happened to Archy Marshall since the release of 2017’s The OOZ. His relationship with Charlotte Patmore began, alongside his eventual departure from London. The biggest change, however, was the birth of his newborn child. All of which happened before he even turned 30. Archy’s return to King Krule is not surprising, as his story has a whole new chapter for him to dive into.
Man Alive! captures the seemingly inescapable gloom that sees to permeate many of King Krule’s records. Previous King Krule records tended to center around a general unease or dissatisfaction. However, the stakes seem to much higher this time around. Archy’s cold-blooded vocal delivery and trademark snarl echo through the anguish as he tries to make sense of his seemingly endless stream of woes. Nevertheless, bits and pieces of optimism shine through the shadow of despair.
At just a brisk 41 minutes, Man Alive! has a distinct flow that goes from moments of sincere melancholy to Archy baring his heart outright. This record deals with the ebb and flow of what comes when one inevitably gets older. Many of the songs deal in a youthful confusion that, despite Archy being only 25, still haunts many millennials as the reality of life begins to set in.
Structurally, this album feels like a combination of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon‘s delightful exuberance and the dense, hopelessness of The OOZ. Production was handled by Dill Harris, who collaborated with Archy on his last record. In a similar vein, Man Alive! is a dense, musical odyssey that has many winding sonic passages and embellishments. “Slinky” and “Comet Face” are prime examples of how these moments make the somewhat-familiar King Krule formula sound fresh. Notably, the scream into the sax on the second half of “Comet Face” is downright frightening.
Archy’s versatility as a musician — which deserves much more attention — is on full display on Man Alive!. Opening track “Celluar” sets the tone right away with a post-punk anthem with a subtle saxophone inclusion and pounding drums. This track conjures up an urban Rorschach test that is at turns both insulated and expansive. Archy uses various cell phone analogies to illustrate the way in which we lose connection with one another. It is a beautiful moment that is followed-up by the equally punchy “Supermarche.”
Much like The OOZ, there is an immersive environment that Archy is able to conjure up effortlessly through his lyrics. “Airport Antenatal Airplane” and “Perfecto Miserable” soundtrack the soul-crushing loneliness that comes with missing a lover or experiencing uncertainty about a drastic new life change. The former track features a sample from Nilüfer Yanya and a faint drum pattern that adds a delicate texture to an already hypnotic interlude. A deep feeling of aguish imbues “Perfecto Miserable” as Archy howls his feelings into the phone of the person he is calling. It is one of many moments on the album that ends on a heart-rending note.
The album’s lead single, “Don’t Let the Dragon (Draag On)”, is a slow burn that possesses a chilling stillness. There is a haunting ambiance that, undeterred by its despondence, engulfs the listener in a warm embrace. Archy’s tender delivery burrows itself into your head as he laments about having to distance himself from those who bring him negative feelings.”Energy Fleets” is another moment where the despair seems to be dragging Archy down into the depths. It can feel like an inescapable void is overhead as the instrumentation clashes with each other.
Man Alive! truly shines on “Underclass” and “Alone, Omen 3”, where Archy’s renewed sense of determination meets his concerns for the future. These tracks contain a dreamy optimism that offers a reprieve from the occasional languorousness of the rest of the album. Archy feels reinvigorated as he confronts his anxieties toward relationships. He revisits the theme from his last record to explore these feelings. Instead of being kept in a “putrid ooze”, Archy places his full faith into his partner and allows them to help guide their relationship forward.
Perhaps it is too soon to declare Archy as the voice of a generation, but he has been able to perfectly depict the emotional woes of many people since his first album. As we get into our late ’20s, one can only imagine the depth of our circumstances like he does. It’s a frightening world out there. Thankfully, we have albums like this to get us through the rough patches.