Archy Marshall just turned 17. He’s got red hair and a deep voice that sits low in the back of his throat, like it got caught halfway between his nose and his mouth. Up until pretty recently, he made music as Zoo Kid, but he dropped the name when he decided it sounded childish, changing over to the more mature King Krule. “I was thinking, I might as well change it now if I feel that it’s too immature already,” he says. He doesn’t really need to worry, though. He could have kept Zoo Kid forever. If you didn’t see his baby face and only heard his songs, you’d never be able to tell he was so young. All his songs, of which there are still relatively few, sound like the inner thoughts of a 50-year-old crotchety pub dweller six pints and a couple packs of cigarettes deep. His music is deeply embedded in his native London—local haunts, rain drizzled streets, endless concrete and a “why me?” existential roughness that normally comes from an entire adult life’s worth of disappointment.
Despite his youth, both tracks on Marshall’s first 7-inch, “Out Getting Ribs” and “Has This Hit,” sound flawed and lived in. They’re full of pained yowls, coughs and fractured guitar lines that oscillate sloppily between finger picking and thick strumming, like he can’t decide which works better so he just does both. “Sometimes it’s a spontaneous thing,” Marshall says. “However the spontaneity gets disguised. I can disguise everything quite easily by saying it’s all meant to be there for a reason. Which it is! Every song is like an experience rather than a piece of music. It’s just a story, and those are sound effects that go with the story.” It’s a testament to his formidable skill that he does this without any trite moments or awful clashes. Being born in the early-’90s, barriers between genres were nonexistent by the time he was old enough to really care about what he was hearing, so the songs he makes exist in a middle ground where crusty dub 45s sit comfortably next to the newest electronic music next to personal style icons like Elvis. “That’s what got me into making music—the images of him,” he says. “[Elvis] was fucking super cool and singing about really basic stuff.” His newer material feels smoother, calmer, less of a roiling look inside the mind of an expert observer, and more a tempered release of angst, teenage or otherwise. On “Noose,” over dreamy, calm guitars Marshall mopes about being suffocated in concrete and losing faith, but it’s not bitter, just knowing, a scary prospect for such a young adult.
Lyrics are what cast Marshall even further from his peers, into a lineage of excellent, complicated songwriters, jettisoning normal growing pains by ratcheting up his concerns to a bleak level most people never reach in their entire lives. On “Has This Hit,” he sings And I’m the only one believing/ There’s nothing to believe in, bile and venom collecting in his voice. It’s an interesting effect, straddling the line between youthful alienation and adult resignation. There’s power in that, like he’s hit the bottom early enough that he knows its depths inside and out. Marshall’s defeat shouldn’t seem universal. It is.
Stream: King Krule, S/T EP