Trying to pin down the artistic enigma of Archy Marshall was one of the more interesting indie music activities to undertake in 2013. That was the year Marshall—known more widely by his stage name King Krule—released his debut LP, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, to wide critical acclaim on both sides of the pond, and when the States got their first look at the South London, teenaged baritone.
Marshall’s unassuming appearance and age notwithstanding, 6 Feet was a profound creative statement. The record’s modest success thrust the unwitting artiste into a sudden underground consciousness, which culminated in Marshall’s amazing performance on Letterman. The backside of such an abrupt trajectory lead Marshall to recoil a bit, refusing to do many interviews for the entirety of his U.S. tour that year. When he came up for air again, it was for a multimedia collaboration project with his older brother, put out under his given name, titled New Place 2 Drown in 2015.
The Ooz being Marshall’s second proper full-length—and being released by indie monolith Matador Records, to boot—there are rightfully expectations, however unfair or arbitrary. Continuing Marshall’s lush musical crutches, the album positions each song to exist as a snapshot into the film-reel cinematics of his visions put to sound. You’d be forgiven should you feel a tad voyeuristic spelunking into Marshall’s headspace in such an intimate way, as if suspended in a three-minute dream you cannot control. And it’s easy to get trapped there.
Beginning with the clunky lounge-hop of “Biscuit Town,” Marshall employs street-smart rhymes in a fiendish croon. This track, like much of the record, warbles a bit, like a melted vinyl record when the needle glides across the valleyed grooves. Allusions to lovesick lows and drug-haze highs dominate the musical panorama here, and give glimpses into the somewhat reclusive Marshall’s last four years beneath the moon.
Narcotic numbers like the eerie “Dum Surfer” deal in trashy horror-film vibes, as Marshall’s molasses baritone boogeyman-giggles before engaging in a free-associative kind of poetry, as he bellows “I’m feeling slightly mashed/The stir fry didn’t absorb it/I need another slash/She spoke in English/it was low lit where we sat/Remembering her face/but that’s the end of that.” Marshall’s image-rich word-salads pepper these bewildering tunes with added shakes of the bizarre often when they are strange enough without them. Their pairing drives them into powerfully deranged realms.
Partly due to Marshall’s incredibly low register, songs throughout The Ooz take on frightful undertones, as howls and shrieks are riddled atop meditative musical ambience, like a Lynchian fever dream. “Logos” offers an apt example of this, as Marshall recites at a snail’s gait, with free-jazz flourishes and warped-tape keys working together to form a watery tapestry of sound.
“Cadet Limbo” induces fluttery vision during a heavy-lidded drug-jazz downer. The song seems caught in a quicksand of improvisational-sounding rhythmic bluster, with phasers, sax, moody guitars and pianos coalescing into an experimental stew. It sounds nearly aimless, and that seems like what Marshall would prefer. To define it is to undermine its nebulous powers, and The Ooz is chockful of cosmic fuckery.
As if to double-down on the the frenzied nature of his output, Marshall coaxes nursery rhyme dynamics out of the shuffling “Vidual,” which comes trotting out like another evil nightmare, as buoyant for its punkish overlay as for its cartoonish delivery. There is something unsettling around every corner of The Ooz—the title connoting an exfoliation of biological detritus, which this record somehow sonically approximates over 19 toxic tracks. Songs with even a modicum of upbeatness to them, like “Emergency Blimp,” sound like cries for help, with provocative lines like “These pills just make me drool/I told him he weren’t doing things right/So he put me on some more, no change as a year flew by.”
Darkness descends on every illuminating musical moment, as Marshall embodies the cries for help through the guise of seedy, lost characters. This is not an album to absorb in desperate moments, but rather an artfully brooding, grime-y thing that stands as a terribly unique and nightmarish account of what it could sound like to spiral out of control. Whether or not that assessment is even vaguely accurate is sort of beside the point. The Ooz is an intoxicating (sometimes nearly literally) collection, likely to imperil the cultivation of many new fans for Marshall by spoiling the twisted audience he already had.