King Krule, AKA 25-year-old south London native Archy Marshall, has always let his work sprawl. His 2013 debut, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, was a staggeringly novel and sometimes exquisite mashup of laptop hip-hop, smoky jazz and folk-punk, yet it was also loose and listless: a collection of guitar figures and gravelly moans that periodically coalesced into greatness.
Man Alive!, his third album as King Krule, maintains many facets of his still beguiling original sound – the uneasy synth washes, the foregrounded strumming, his bassy rasp. But the fragments of melody and bursts of momentum that carried his previous material (2017’s The Ooz was pretty impressionistic but at least featured some singalong segments) have largely gone. Instead, Man Alive! is mainly concerned with evoking disgust, dissolution and despair via vague choruses, eerie vocal samples and dogged dissonance.
There are moments when the album is straightforwardly unenjoyable because of this approach, but it still contains plenty of evidence of its maker’s singular talents. Flickers of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon’s ragged poetry surface sporadically (see: Stoned Again’s nightmarishly nostalgic mid-section), while the syncopated drums, incantatory chorus and starkly plucked chords on Cellular return Marshall to the moody, atmospheric and strangely beautiful punk update he wowed with on his debut.
By the end of the album’s 14 tracks, however, these glimmers of energy don’t seem quite enough. Marshall remains an unequivocally talented, trailblazing artist but this album’s bagginess and unremitting gloom mean it often struggles to hold the attention and unfortunately lacks much discernible appeal at all.