Hype is a strange machine in the music world. It draws quick lines in the dirt amongst critics and listeners alike often at the expense of the music and the artist. After all, hype is the fault of everyone but the artist and yet, they must bear the brunt of it. If we follow the hyperbole surrounding 17-year old, rail-thin English ginger King Krule (née Archy Marshall), he’s apparently threatening to overtake melancholic UK pop well before he’s old enough to have a proper stateside pint. Unless they’re churning out super-produced pop music with a last name of Bieber, not much should be expected of an artist in their late teens. And yet, the machine has run its course and Marshall already finds himself up against an unfair amount of expectation.
If this the excitement surrounding Krule proves to be true, this brief five-track self-titled EP coming in under 13 minutes, doesn’t crown the self-proclaimed royal anything of note quite yet. Instead, we have an airy, understated collage that acts more as a stopgap teaser to keep the spotlight on the young lad from London, before something more cohesive and fully-realized can be recorded.
The most revealing song here in regards to Marshall’s budding talent comes from the excellent closer, “The Noose of Jah City,” a dreamy, modern-life lament of a young, helpless patsy who is “always to blame.” Backed by a simple 808-drumbeat under a languid low-end keyboard and plucks of a guitar, the music cautiously builds a shadowy, overcast atmosphere. The music is mostly there to serve Marshall’s surprisingly low voice and his warm but indifferent delivery that weaves in and out of the opaque fog of moody sounds for a tastefully emotive anti-ballad. On “Bleak Bake” a similar formula unravels with briefer glimpses of genius drenched in reverb and snippets of sampled strings. Marshall arrives with a cough (and likely an unheard sheepish shrug) before distantly painting us a vague, watery song ending in tears and “blood on the bed.”
“Portrait in Black and Blue” finds Mr. Krule waking up from behind the slanted shadows of the hazy musical collage with drums and a jangling, though restrained, guitar. Here Marshall’s heavy, working-class London brogue coalesces well with the more traditional setup. While “Lead Existence” is its playful sibling, chalking in just over a minute, Marshall noshes through his words on lost ambition and dreary routine before an all too abrupt end.
Whether intentional or not, Marshall’s voice channels past English-born lamenting lads like Ian Dury and Dan Treacy of Television Personalities with its simplistic, almost talk-like approach that lacks range but works with what it’s got. Amidst the ambient gauze of the music that seems to sometimes nod towards a more urban, dubby Durutti Column, the result can be fixating. How much it can sustain through an entire full-length release remains to be seen. This offer only prolongs that debate.