By Alex Cohen
When my friends first introduced me to King Krule in 2013, I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy Archie Marshall’s unique sound. Gradually and with much repeated listening, Marshall’s powerful, deep voice grew on me, so much so that his debut album “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” remains one of my most listened to albums to date. On his most recent album “The Ooz,” however, I find myself still waiting for things to click.
Sound-wise, this album meanders between King Krule’s jazzy, guitar heavy debut and his 2015 hip-hop and synth-fueled project, “A New Place 2 Drown.” With a runtime of over an hour, great songs such as “Biscuit Town” or “Dum Surfer” are bogged down by many others that sound like amorphous filler after a few listens. Tracks like “Slush Puppy” sound like a subpar version of the last half of “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” and detract from the listening experience. Marshall experiments stylistically on “Bermondsey Bottom (Left)” and “Bermondsey Bottom (Right),” two tracks which put guests vocalists at the foreground and subvert all but the faintest instrumentation. This sounds fine on the first few listens, but I find myself skipping them after their novelty has worn off.
The middle of the album is where I find myself wishing Marshall had cut a few tracks, or at least shortened a few. The movement from “Bermondsey Bottom (Left)” into “Logos,” “Sublunary” and “Lonely Blue” sounds monotonous, and Marshall rambles with an uncharacteristically boring vocal delivery. There is definitely some captivating instrumentation, however: “Logos” ends with a wailing saxophone and synth combination instantly evocative of “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” while “Sublunary” opens up with a siren which blends into a guitar and far-off saxophones, hinting at the unrealized musically experimental possibilities of “The Ooz.”
It’s not all bad, though. The singles (“Czech One,” “Dum Surfer” and “Half Man Half Shark”) are all solid pieces, and perhaps their earlier release led to higher expectations for this album. The frenetic pace of “Emergency Blimp,” where Marshall breaks from his rambling, is my favorite track on the album. In the wider context of the album, however, it’s held down by too many similar and slow tracks.
There’s nothing wrong with Marshall mumbling and slow vocal style. Not only is it his own unique sound, it worked really well on “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” especially on tracks such as “Cementality” or “Neptune Estate.” Yet that was an album where these slower tracks didn’t feel monotonous. They fit in the context of a greater work where we hear Marshall crooning, screaming and using his incredible voice to its fullest, creating an emotionally provocative effect. With the length of “The Ooz,” however, there are just too many of these slow and repetitive tracks.
As renowned electronic musician John Maus put it in a recent interview, “Verse can only serve the music, and it can certainly stand in the way of the thing if it isn’t handled right.” There’s an argument to be made for Marshall’s focus on his lyrics on “The Ooz,” but they needed to be backed with an interesting vocal delivery à la “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” in order to make them actually work.
Maybe I just don’t “get” art rock. But as a long time King Krule fan, “The Ooz” left me feeling a bit disappointed. It’s a testament to how good “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” and “A New Place 2 Drown” were that I had such high expectations for this album. But unless you’re an avid King Krule fan, you’re going to find yourself lost in the mire of Marshall’s “The Ooz.”