My earliest awareness of the iconic Frank Sinatra came from watching classic Looney Tunes cartoons from the early 40’s. In those cartoons Sinatra was depicted as skinny and sickly, often attached to various medical apparatuses as women swoon in increasingly ridiculous fashion as a result of hearing the buttery tones of his hypnotic croon. I always found the juxtaposition of this figure on the brink of death provoking such rapturous responses somewhat disturbing yet very compelling. The indelible croon of 17-year-old Archy Marshall won’t soon be mistaken for that of Old Blue Eyes, but the bleak jazz inflected sound that it anchors seems like a better fit for that macabre caricature of the young Sinatra. Marshall started making music-bloggers swoon like bobby-soxers in 2010 with a series of singles self-produced/released under the moniker Zoo Kid. Marshall’s 2010 efforts yielded the track “Out Getting Ribs,” which along with its outstanding video have made him “one to watch.” In November of 2011 he released a self-titled EP under his new name King Krule, which finds him expanding, and delivering, on the promise of his Zoo Kid output.
There are few things more important in a singer-songwriters development than learning to write for ones voice. Elliot Smith accounted for the limitations of his voice by pairing it with strong melodic arrangements and virtuoso guitar playing. Bossa-nova godfather João Gilberto helped launch an entire genre by combining Latin music and jazz in such a manner that favored vocal restraint and the natural beauty of a hushed voice. Can you imagine how the song “London Calling” would have sounded had Joe Strummer possessed something other than his piercing bark? King Krule captures Archy Marshall at a stage where he’s becoming better acquainted with his vocal sweet-spot. Building on the sturdy foundation of his raw baritone, Marshall is crafting sophisticated songs that tease the imagination and heighten expectations.
“The Noose Of Jah City,” the most fully realized track on the King Krule EP, best showcases Marshall’s burgeoning artistic clarity on terms of reconciling his voice with his sonic curiosities. The song is built on a foundation of dub atmospherics and what sounds like a jazzy lounge act playing somewhere beneath the sea. Marshall enters the mix with the chorus delivered with a hip-hop flow that soon gives way to something akin to a teary eyed barfly slumped over an old jukebox as he croons along with the saddest song ever written. Perhaps his ability to pull this off can be partly attributed to his parents exposing him to experimental jazz, dub, hip-hop, and poetry at an early age. Maybe he’s found a muse in the form of the general anger and pessimism that most British youth feel about their country right now. All I know for sure is that the end product leaves a pretty damn strong impression. I told you he’s only 17, right?
King Krule recently performed the track “Portrait In Black and Blue” for Yours Truly. He’s joined by a trio of young musicians manning the bass, jazz heavy drum-work, and the third serving as the groups Johnny Greenwood with guitar and electronic gadget tinkering. When he opens the song with the words “Spastic gyrations, and abbreviated bathe’n suits; see? I suit you, cuz I could be you…” it sets off a synaptic firestorm as your brain tries to decipher its cryptic cheekiness. When the full band kicks in with its gangly, but convincing, take on hard-bop by way of Radiohead, the whole package begins to take on a real punk vibe. In the most youthful and audacious sense of the word, it’s completely punk. The performance is so good that I’ve watched it almost every day since it first became available.
On the surface Archy Marshall appears to be a prodigy. Who knows? Maybe he is. The term “outlier” as used by author Malcolm Gladwell might be a more apt descriptor. The unique confluence of the individually unremarkable details behind his music seems to suggest a potential once-in-a-generation talent. Honestly, it’s far too early to tell. In the meantime there are few artists of any age that I’m more excited about.