Album review: Desolation, dissolution and King Krule’s “Man Alive!”

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Edward Benner/THE REVIEW
“Man Alive!” is King Krule’s elegy to the depression of the digital age.

BY Senior Reporter

King Krule is no stranger to desolation. His fascination with urban isolation, modern disassociation and the depression of the technological age manifest in his music time and time again. Sounding disinterested, yet impassioned, with his soul-shaking grumble, the red-haired Londoner, born with the name Archy Marshall, aims to be a light in the darkness, a light atop a cellphone tower, a “Man Alive!” in his third album.

Marshall interrogates the institutional facets of his life that cause the isolation and despair he feels so deeply throughout “Man Alive!” The opening track “Cellular” introduces this quest with tesselating synths, meandering post-punk bass and a rumination on the apathetic state of human relationships. Anxiety heightens in the following song “Supermarché” as he struggles with the notion of worth is determined by others’ digital, remediated perceptions. Fear and unsteadiness are manifested in the ebb and flow of his echoed vocals that erupt into screams and distortion, clawing their way through the intentionally muddy mix.

This screaming is intensified in “Comet Face” that exhibits horrifyingly distorted strings and nasty bass that compete with Marshall’s grumble. An urban nightmare about drugs that “contort the glows at the worst time,” Marshall’s scream deconstructs midway into a haunting saxophone chirp which symbolizes his complete unraveling. The most harrowing song on the album, “Stoned Again,” is also about addiction and the utter desperation to escape its clutches. On this track, pounding drums and unhinged, double-tracked vocals mimic a splitting migraine to add to the effect.

The second half of the album moves from to a more inward-facing place. “Alone, Omen 3” offers a rare glimmer of hope in its smooth, driving tone and message about taking chances and opening oneself up to experience. Riding a train, a favorite metaphor in Marshall’s lyrics across albums, is revisited here as a symbol of hopefully surrendering to a journey they can’t be fully controlled. This theme of accepting absurdism is further addressed in the track “Energy Fleets” as well.

In trying to make sense of the world he inhabits, Marshall comes to the realization that his very sense of self and reality are misaligned. “Slinky” features vocals scrambled in reverb trying to discern dreams from memory.

“I dreamt I was here before/ Above wet pavements/ Across deep blue skies she would soar,” Marshall sings.

His circular thoughts continue on “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On” with depression represented by descending, woozy guitar riff and monotone vocals like water spinning down a drain. The album’s final track, “Please Complete Thee,” comes from the same place of mental urgency, confessionally addressing a former lover. Like the substances in other songs, he looked to this woman as the false answer to his problems, leaving him only with numbness and false dreams. Devolving into a dissonant chaos, a slide guitar swings to a higher pitch in a hopeful note.

While not the final song, “Underclass” is a marker of a hopeful beacon amidst Marshall’s despair. This touching song is a ballad to his wife and to becoming a father, which he believes saved him by repurposing his life. The dreamy and upbeat tune complemented with a perfectly schmaltzy saxophone is a reminder that being a “Man Alive!” is challenging and harrowing but worth it to find reprieve in others that reciprocate the love they’re given. While the album’s existential themes might lead one to think “Hell is other people,” Marshall comes to the opposite conclusion: life is completed by those we love. And that is enough.

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