Anyone invested in the work of Archy Marshall must familiarize themself with the benefits of delayed gratification. Marshall’s disappearing acts come standard issue, taking years between major projects to tour the world, do side projects with friends, and make sense of himself before rushing back with something to say. He knows how to allow himself to be missed; an obvious skill, considering how often he dwells in matters of longing and the perils of desire. Upon this reemergence, Marshall growled quietly near a power line with a pink guitar in the snow. He’s compiled another set of revelations, but with a twist: an unwavering optimism peeking from behind the clouded skies. While the longing feels as familiar as a King Krule record can, Man Alive! finds Marshall pulling his resolve - and himself - from the ethers of a still-frightening world.
Diving into the sweet spots of Man Alive! requires a far more attentive ear, despite being the shortest King Krule LP to date. The sonic palettes remain streaked with predominant hues of grey and blue, insinuating a dazed return to form resembling the fever-dream pacing of The OOZ. The dramatic thrash moments happen mostly on the front end, soon relieving themselves for ambient textures often favoring a freefall. The genre-clashing feels less drastic and scatterbrained, favoring a steady drip of style-switching with no sharp turns or swan dives into the unexpected. But Marshall never leans too hard on the standards, and works diligently to fill familiar spaces with a cosmic shift in his energy. He’s calmer, laying his thoughts on thick with a newfound clearance of some fog in his head, only granted with age and a growing count of storms weathered in his lifetime. (Most notably: his partner Charlotte Patmore’s pregnancy, and the birth of their daughter Marina.)
The listener remains fully engulfed in Marshall’s skull, even as he obstructs our vision by burying his thoughts to near-murmurs, but there’s a stark difference in the way he manages his crown jewels of subject matter. He revels in chances to love and be loved, his depression’s no longer a one-man show, and the world’s cherished for all its ugly with a reserved appreciation. The power struggles against his own mind - or the society rearing its fist against it - no longer feel like unwinnable challenges in the game of life. Elsewhere, Marshall remains a man obsessed by transit: train lines, airports, the underbelly of the underclass. Outside the physical, he continues to lament (and laugh) at the absurdity of the life he’s forged as a vessel for the hopes and despairs of others. He glides between moods and continents, leaving snapshots at angles we can’t always immediately articulate.
Thankfully, he’s living far more outside his head, and long enough to run towards his happiness before the world falls in on him like the rest of us. For returning riders, Man Alive! proves most rewarding upon reveling in Marshall’s growth as a precise songwriter who brings delight in newfound levels of delicacy. When he executes, we’re treated with a chance to cherish some of his career’s most affective moments. This seasoned surreality continues to percolate, down to the title: Man Alive! at once reads like the headline of a shocking revelation, and the refreshing first step towards a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such is the duality of King Krule: a beleaguered empath evolving through his worldly journey. It’s an album best consumed for the patchwork: the glitches in sound, the leaking voices, the samples of existence that fuel Marshall’s work and life to persevere through how time’s molded him. While misery’s often made a home of him, he’s no longer granting permanence to what’ll destroy him in the end. It’s the sunshine we’ve waited for all along.