King Krule, a Cult Singer in the Making, Is Setting the Terms Himself

King Krule, a Cult Singer in the Making, Is Setting the Terms Himself


Archy Marshall, the enigmatic South London singer best known as King Krule, is a creature of the night.

Known since the age of 15 as a preternaturally wise and unpredictable songwriter, Mr. Marshall, now 23, has assumed the mantle of a bard for the shrouded underclass, churning his anxiety, depression and insomnia into swampy, after-dark tales for the mischievous and disaffected. On songs that mix jazz, punk, dub, hip-hop and the affectations of a zonked-out lounge crooner, he has cut what he calls “gritty stories about the streets” with a “sensitive and romantic side,” aiming to take “social realism and make it social surrealism.”

He’s also timelessly cool, a child of bohemia with a sharp proletarian edge, tall and model-gaunt with a gold-capped front tooth and a fluff of red hair. “In the dead of night I howl/We all have our evils,” Mr. Marshall snarls in his harsh, accented baritone on the new King Krule album, “The Ooz,” out Oct. 13, returning to his typical themes.

It felt fitting, then, that after a few years away from New York — a city that, like London, values a grimy deadbeat with a pretentious side — King Krule played a secret show well after midnight, in an overstuffed Manhattan dim sum restaurant known to certain youthful types for its after-hours parties and lax indoor smoking rules. Huddled at a table among the fashionably disheveled fans, Mr. Marshall, in red plastic sunglasses and an unreleased Supreme shirt, scrawled a set list in capital letters for the sweaty concert that would help mark his return to the underground hype cycle that threatens to deify him.

Photo

Mr. Marshall said he is more concerned with building a body of work than flooding the market and losing his sense of mystery.

Credit
Roger Kisby for The New York Times

“Traveling so much, playing so much and being this character so much — it obscured me,” Mr. Marshall said in an interview at a gentrified Bed-Stuy bar two days before the performance last month, recalling the vortex of attention that came with his debut LP, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” in 2013. (Even Beyoncé declared her fandom on Facebook.) “I feel like I was too young and I went pretty headfirst into trying to carve a career out,” he continued. “It sounds cliché, but I kind of lost where I was coming from for a bit.”

“The Ooz” is a return to himself, written over three years when Mr. Marshall moved back in with his mother in the district of East Dulwich in London. At 19 tracks and more than an hour long, the album, his second as King Krule, feels like a swan dive into Mr. Marshall’s turbulent subconscious, jarring by design as it lurches from laid-back almost-rap (“Biscuit Town”) to post-Clash punk (“Dum Surfer”) back to ’50s-style rock ’n’ roll balladeering (“Lonely Blue”).

King Krule – Dum Surfer Video by King Krule

The titular “ooz” — a versatile metaphor that applies equally well to mental health and songwriting — represents all the excess crud our bodies are constantly discharging. “You go to sleep and your nails grow, you get boogies, your hair, your teeth,” Mr. Marshall explained while chain-smoking. “You’ve got to refine it every day.”

The album, dense and uncompromising, as well as its delayed delivery, also place Mr. Marshall in a class of semi-reluctant indie idols like Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt and James Blake — a cadre of cult artists in the making (and like-minded sometime collaborators) who have chosen to withdraw rather than ride the ego-dragon into commercial ubiquity. All prodigy children of the internet who synthesized original combinations of influences — and adolescent angst — into fresh sounds, this group tends to inspire deep, loyal fandom with its commitment to artistic integrity and layered multimedia work.



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