Album Review: The OOZ, King Krule11th November 2017
The OOZ is daunting. Imagine if they were to make an hour-long version of the ‘scary tunnel’ scene from the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – this could be the soundtrack. A tunnel, in fact, is the best word I can think of to describe this album; Archy Marshall, as King Krule, is walking with us through it instead of talking directly to us. You can get lost in it and not remember the last time you were able to distinguish the voice of King Krule from the stream of horns and poetry – until he lets out a yell and you’re reminded that he’s still trying to get through to you.
This is Marshall’s second full-length output under his King Krule moniker, and the transformation from his 2013 breakout album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon is noticeable. He is still the bohemian jazz-punk from Peckham who recruits horn players from Argentina and calls people ‘cats’, but his sound has become much richer and, in a sense, less accessible. In this sophomore album, Marshall’s voice is no longer front and centre, and there aren’t many songs with broad, standalone appeal like Baby Blue or Easy Easy which he could perform on a late night US talk show. There is now more distortion, and his vocals are dried out and toyed with to contribute to the atmosphere as a whole, and atmosphere is what The OOZ has in spades.
The whole album has a haze around it, a boozy jazz sound that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Tom Waits record – Cadet Limbo, for example, is taken up nearly entirely by instrumentation, with Marshall’s anomic lyrics just bookending this, whilst any tracks that appear at first to be more formulaic grows in complexity over the course of the song, as in Emergency Blimp, where effects are layered in and Marshall’s voice raises up to a wail. Slush Puppy, meanwhile, sees him singing with Okay Kaya, whose voice has been pitched down in order to make it almost devoid of character as she sings the song’s depressed lyrics. Atmosphere is created beyond his voice and instrumentation, though –recordings of foxes and footsteps are sampled, and a poem is brilliantly threaded through the album (think To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar). Whereas Lamar keeps the listener invested through his emotional reading and slow reveal of the whole poem, King Krule does it differently – we hear it only once in English, when it is read by his father on Bermondsey Bosom (Right), but first in Spanish, with a Filipino rendition coming later. To the non-Spanish-and-Filipino-speaking listeners, then, the poem is heard differently three times – we pick up hints as to the mood Marshall is trying to convey from the sound of the voice, not the content of the poem. When we first hear it, it is in a lyrical Spanish and there is some hope, yet the Filipino reading is distorted and monotonous at the tail end of the album before the climactic title track, as we near the end of the dark tunnel. The creation of atmosphere on this album is King Krule at his best, as the album draws you into a soundscape that is consistently nightmarish if sometimes surprising – the frequent use of gloomy, echoed notes and rain effects among and in betweenthe seemingly formless songs creates a nourish, Blade Runner-style atmosphere that is a joy to get lost in. The use of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia theme at the end of Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver) is more puzzling, an inclusion that Marshall has said has some personal significance to him, yet it is mixed somewhat too prominently in the track so that it serves to mainly derail the atmosphere built up so brilliantly over the seventeen previous tracks.
Sonically, then, The OOZ rarely puts a foot wrong, and proves to be a difficult and dark, if interesting listen. Lyrically, too, it retains this gloomy quality, with similar success. There are occasionally some lyrics that are too abstract as to be nonsensical, but, because so much of the vocals are unintelligible due to the production, analysis is almost pointless – Marshall doesn’t seem to want us to be able to understand him. At times, he is starkly honest, such as in Slush Puppy, where Marshall admits that “nothing’s working with me,” and Emergency Blimp, where he sings of his insomnia medication: “these pills just make me drool”. Meanwhile, some of Marshall’s more irreverent lyrics are still present from 6 Feet Below the Moon, as he has moved on from the Tesco sandwiches of Easy Easy to new interests: opener Biscuit Town, about his current residence of Bermondsey, he sings about soft drinks (“he sipped on KA Soda/Fuck that’s Coca-Cola”) and “dreams of being Gianfranco Zola”, whilst Dum Surfer is a frenzied account of vomit on pavements and needing a piss on a night out. Yet the more complex material is side-by-side with the irreverence – we aren’t sure if he’s saying ‘Dum Surfer’ or ‘don’t suffer’ over a booming saxophone, the darkness of the album is omnipresent in the lyrics. The Ooz is different entirely, meanwhile – it is almost entirely conceptual, and allows us an insight into Marshall’s fascination with said substance. “We ooz two souls, pastel blues/heightened touch from losing sight,” he sings reminiscing about a lost connection and the changes he has made himself. ‘The ooz’, it becomes apparent, is Marshall’s view of our basic life force: it is visceral and spiritual, our skin flakes and our souls, and it is with this title track that the album peaks lyrically and sonically.
Discussing individual songs, though, is somewhat futile – the songs released before the album came out are puzzling and not particularly listenable on their own, with the exception of Blue Train Lines, his track with Mount Kimbie off the London duo’s September album Love What Survives, the videos were dark and hard to make sense of, the music rather intimidating and the lyrics incomprehensible, yet outside of the context of the album this was always bound to be the case. The OOZ is an album of paradoxes: it could be viewed as masterfully cohesive or as a disjointed mess; as full of uncomfortable honesty or as full of frustrating riddles; as a record that draws the listener in with jazzy beats or repels them with its often harsh sound. You could even be puzzled by the low-key role King Krule himself seems to play in it. It rewards repeated listens – and it is hard not to put it on again as soon as you’ve finished it. It is still growing on this reviewer, I still find it tiring and depressing after several listens, yet I recognise that it is something special nonetheless. Moreover, it deserves to be at least listened to – you’re unlikely to hear a more interesting album all year, and you may even be unable to turn it off.