So there’s this oversized, wide-lapelled, mud brown suit. It’s worn in the video for ‘Easy Easy’ by Archy Marshall a.k.a. King Krule (either from Kid Creole and the Coconuts, or Donkey Kong’s King K. Rool depending on where you look). The thing about this suit is, even as it dwarfs him, it somehow seems to encapsulate so much of the music and character of the East Dulwich-based teenager as he clambers through his concrete jungle.
It’s there in the music, which feels confidently incongruous with the forced formality of genre and so it lurches between dub, jazz, trip-hop, and lo-fi soul: structurally misshapen, staunchly unfashionable, but flexible and utterly compelling.
Then there’s that voice: world-weary and haggard, but simultaneously alert with visceral, impertinent energy. The stories that voice tells operate within the same milieu: disaffected, often down-tempo and yet carried by this compelling sense of self-confident, positive movement – the emblematic voice of youth that’s had to grow up too fast.
Like that suit, the expectations surrounding Marshall’s debut 6 Feet Beneath The Moon often don’t fit in the with the reality… and yet when you try it on it all makes some kind of sense.
The key to it all are the jazz tropes in the song-writing, which drive and anchor the record. There’s a raw, improvised and mood-driven vibe to the music of tracks like ‘The Krockadile’ and ‘Neptune Estate’, their compositional flow disposed only to following the sights, sounds and trains of thought occupying Marshall’s brain. Stylistically 6 Feet … often feels like following the distinctive narratorial bop and flow of a Sam Selvon novel, elsewhere like a J Dilla instrumental, particularly when Marshall marries organic and electronic elements on tracks such as ‘Foreign 2’ and ‘Will I Come’, which are driven by artfully employed beats and samples in contrast with the bare-bones, low-slung ‘Easy Easy’.
Befitting these methodological switch-ups is that, as a listening-experience, this is a record that suits digestion through multifarious means: whether it’s taken as a whole, or mused upon in fragmented chunks. Easy divisions and sequences manifest themselves throughout, offered up within the laid-back rise and fall the album cruises upon for just under an hour. The most prominent of these is the segue that worms its way between ‘Cementality’ and ‘A Lizard State’, which acts as both a break and a bridge at the centre-point of the record. This couplet epitomises the general sense of the record: it can be taken apart, together, or as part of a shared narrative that threads through the record. The former’s lyrics and sonic tone captures the vibe of a somnambulant walk home after work or a night on the town, Marshall in a meditative preoccupation with the ground beneath his feet: “It’s not the cracks or the grooves but the pavement that soothes”.
Finally crashing into his pillow, the track fades out with the plea of the distractible and sleepless “Brain leave me be / Can’t you see that these are eyes are shut”, before re-emerging via a steady strum – like light creeping in through the blinds. Slumber is eventually, resolutely disturbed by the sound of a phone call, its intrusion inciting a groan to herald a morning that physically hurts, and what follows is the frantic delight of the ska-tinged, expletive-laden ‘A Lizard State’. Marshall’s brooding thoughts fight against the distinctive blurring, overlapping voices of a cityscape, and steadily the tracks seem to explain the previous night’s sleeplessness as it recounts his fracturing relationship with ‘Baby Blue’. This figure becomes a lyrical hook throughout the record, from the eponymous track, to ‘Has This Hit?’ and ‘A Lizard State’, in which she alternately appears as either a single girl or a series of them. Eventually though it’s almost as if she turns into just a state of mind, especially by the time she rears her head again in the midst of the woozy, gorgeous and meandering penultimate track ‘Out Getting Ribs’.
It’s through such means that the description of 6 Feet Beneath The Moon as a self-centred record comes to the fore. Through being constituted of tracks that have been written by and represent Marshall from age 13, all the way up until he turns 19 on the day of the album’s release, there’s the sense of this being an intensely introspective, almost documentarian record. Crucially though, it’s an introspection embedded within a clear self-aware sense of his own presence in an eco-system. His music is self-conscious of being part of a history, only one small part of an overarching whole.
This is particularly reflected in the lyrics, in which lie recurring elements as well as isolated events: prosaic rants about out-of-date Tesco sandwiches alongside social commentary incited by blood on the streets. It all seems a conscious effort – particularly for an artist who has seemingly been on the scene for years, despite still being almost scarily young – to both reflect and actively counter the nature of the age: the everything-now, pseudo-individualist mentality, and pigeonholing commercialism of capitalist realism.
Marshall finds himself picking through a hollow, perpetual present in which work is increasingly casualised, in which leisure and youth (especially since the dawn of the “teenager”) are near-wholly commoditised. His music reacts to the sensation of “history repeating itself” and “getting picked up and left back on the shelf”, and his songs seem an attempt to chronicle the struggle to resist entrapment within a modernity that’s not even capable of legitimate nostalgia anymore. Instead of drowning in the saturated fat of trending hash-tags, ad-tracked check-ins, and auto-tagged insta-memories, 6 Feet … counters modern malaise by conjuring sounds and stories that are capable of feeling extraordinary, simply by their very ordinary preoccupations.
These songs weave their way into your consciousness. They can plod, they can grab you by the throat, they can be full of sadness, they can be full of hope. With each rotation they unwind and grow, the vitality that’s gone into their creation making them feel all the more vital. Without ever being overtly radical or even all that political, simply by being so distinctively himself under the moniker of King Krule, Archy Marshall is differentiated from the cloud, driven by the motto of ‘Easy Easy’: “Cause if you going through hell / We just keep going”.