Thursday, September 5, 2013

Album Review: King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon

Album Rating: B-
There’s no way around it - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, the debut record from London’s Archy Marshall, better known as King Krule, is a disappointment. I type this with a sort of passive forlorn look on my face. You know, like I’m let down but I know I shouldn’t be? There haven’t been a lot of releases recently that have, erhm, appointed? But I wanted a game-changer. I felt like this record was going to be a game-changer. It’s not. 

The basic plotline of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon is that Archy’s been making music since 12 years old, and, when he turned 19 a couple of days ago, he presented to the world (as a kind of reverse birthday gift) a chronicle of his growth - his favorite compositions from seven productive years. Keeping this in mind, the album’s consistency and, at some points unfortunately, monotony, is striking. Marshall’s aesthetic is pronounced and specific. Of course, though some have been around since their writer’s prepubescence, all 14 tracks have been recently rerecorded, possibly explaining their bizarre stylistic unity. Either that, or Marshall’s evolution as a songwriter has, in seven years, kept the pace of heated, dripping pitch.

Even if the songs have all been revamped, Marshall’s formula simply isn’t strong enough to fall back on at length. It felt like quite a shame when I found myself checking the time and thinking about what else there was to do around track 11 or 12, especially after a lightning rod opener like “Easy Easy,” which turned my morning commute into the coolest music video of all time. Almost all the tracks are guitar driven, and again almost all in the same way. It’s a clean tone sound, strongly rhythmic, strummed either in 16th-note hop-skips or slow and purposeful strokes, generally one after the other and always in an outdoor cafe on the beach kind of style. It’s a good sound, a pretty sound, but shoved in everywhere it sounds more gimmicky than stylistic, and after a while it can even get a little grating. Interestingly (because they’re very different factors), the vocals hit a similar rut. Marshall’s well known for his voice, which sounds like it’s been run over. It’s an excellent voice too - evocative and unique and ugly. But, as seems to be his fatal flaw, he sticks to limited ranges and cadences in which he feels comfortable, and rarely strays. 

I might sound cynical, but try it yourself. Put the record on, and see if you’re not a little sick of easy grooves and vaguely inspirational lyrics by the time “Ocean Bed” rolls around at track 10. That’s when I hit my full slump. It almost feels like Marshall’s at a loss for things to say, musically and thematically, or too cocky to wonder if we care what he’s going on about over and over. 

Remember, I’m being so negative because I wanted so much more. When he does manage to enter some new territory, it’s always exciting. “A Lizard State,” breaking the flow of the album out of its midway drudge, is simply acidic, spinning dizzyingly from fury to beauty, bitterness to sweetness, and weaving elements of his artistic voice with ideas he explores just tangentially. That’s the kind of diverse composition that can liven up and album. “Neptune Estate” is the height of his sentimentality, pitting a boom-pat rhythm with a thick and rising key line that feels like the way time stops when you make a big mistake. Marshall’s biggest victories outside of that fickle beast of formulaic songwriting tend to be in terms of his brave production choices. “Cementality,” which could have been buzzkillingly dull, flushes halfway through with a heavenly chorus of high notes like a time-lapse of a city street at night, and is absolutely gorgeous.

If you add it all up, the mistakes and the victories, Marshall remains an artist of promise unfulfilled. That’s not so bad. It could have been a flop. “Easy Easy” and “Border Line” have jumped up near the top of my list in terms of songs of the year, and I don’t see that changing soon. A few other hooks have been wandering back in to my head every now and then. I’ll listen to the next King Krule record, but that excitement I felt in early August this year won’t be there, another victim of that roaring beast, the first full-length. 

1. Easy Easy
2. Borderline
3. Has This Hit?
4. Foreign 2
5. Ceiling
6. Baby Blue
7. Cementality
8. A Lizard State
9. Will I Come
10. Ocean Bed
11. Neptune Estate
12. The Krockadile
13. Out Getting Ribs
14. Bathed in Grey

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