A young artist from London draws the listener in with evocative musical artistry.

By Alex Bonwit

I can’t remember what exactly led me to the article on Pitchfork.com about the young Londoner who was beginning to make an impression on the preeminent beau monde of a music scene in New York City. But sitting alone in my temporary home with a San Jose address and a 24-hour snack bar located in the hotel lobby, nearly two thousand miles away from my rented house back in Austin, I was moved by the sonic creations of a 17-year-old kid.

What do we know about the red-headed artist Archy Marshall? Well, first off, he is currently signed stateside to True Panther Sounds, a record label launched to indie prominence by the band Girls. He has recently released a self-titled EP comprised of five tracks under the name King Krule. He formerly called himself Zoo Kid, and was at that time responsible for a fairly prolific output of work which can still be sampled via the Zoo Kid page at bandcamp.com. According to an article from Business Insider writer Kevin Lincoln, his name is Andy Marshall. Unless Archy is an English variant of Andy (and despite my best online searching, I have found no evidence to support this contention), I’m afraid I have to call into question the credibility of said publication when it comes to the field of music journalism.

To further illustrate this point, the very same Business Insider article describes Marshall’s voice as being reminiscent of “… an elastic, English Roy Orbison.” Well, I’m with them on the use of the descriptor “English”. Beyond that, however, my (admittedly limited) experience with Roy Orbison’s vocal stylings had left me with aural memories of a comparably shrill register. After revisiting Orbison’s 1987 concert film Black & White Night, my recalled impressions were confirmed.

In contrast to Orbison, Marshall’s vocals are almost universally (with the sole exception of the universe in which Business Insider’s Kenneth Lincoln apparently resides) described as deep. In fact, he possesses a literal vocal depth so arresting that no legitimate music publication worth its weight in Bon Iver LPs would dare forego prominently highlighting this fact in their King Krule feature. At its zenith, his range might venture into the territory of a baritone at best. And, at its essence, this is the duality that is responsible for much of the mystique present in the King Krule EP, and indeed in much of Marshall’s oeuvre.

Visually, Marshall is unmistakably teenaged. He cuts a maladroit figure of lanky limbs and unapologetically bright red hair. Lyrically, his songs read like last night’s diary entries read in the harsh spotlight of an open mic night stage. The sonic bed on which the foundation of Marshall’s plainly spoken confessionals are built evokes an otherworldly ether, at once both calm and unnerved, and frequently coupling a bass- heavy driving beat with floaty trembling instrumentation. There is a permeating feeling of acceptance in his work, a resignation to heartbreak, longing and a flicker of the sanguine outlook that makes our teenage years survivable.

image credit: Mikael Gregorsky

Marshall’s music is at times reminiscent of Morrissey’s best bedroom sulking at his expressive peak with the Smiths, and I’d like to think that the comparison runs deeper than the shared English blood running through their veins and the accent on their lips. While Marshall’s own work foregoes much of the sardonic wit in which the Smiths’ iconic catalog is drenched in favor of a more plainspoken expressiveness peppered with a dogged emotional buoyancy, the desire for the solace found only in shared experience is undoubtedly present in both Morrissey’s and Marshall’s output.

Much has been made of Marshall’s particular place and time, the tumultuous world in which we all live, and how it must surely be affecting his musical disposition.
While this is undoubtedly true when considering his work aurally, as many of Marshall’s contemporaries craft songs built on a foundation of the slow burn of electronic and
found beats topped with a shimmering echo of guitar and synth, the essential soul of his music strikes me as being timeless. There’s nothing unique in our current social unrest and crumbling world economy that transforms the pain inherent in love, be it teenage or otherwise.

So what is it about this kid’s music that draws so many of us in, that evokes feelings of an intimate personal bond? As a twenty-six-year-old adult, shouldn’t I have
developed emotionally beyond the sting of rejection at the hands of a schoolyard crush? There will never be anything rational about love, and there is rarely an attachment to a particular artist or song that can be explained solely in the mathematics of the piece itself. Undoubtedly much of Marshall’s work is about transience; the lack of
permanence in being a teenager, the fact that all loves will inevitably crumble in the face of time, and the immediacy of the contemporary sonic influences that have combined to create his sound. But when distilling King Krule’s EP down to my most base emotional reaction, one aspect alone resonates particularly strongly in my mind. I see in Marshall’s work the unyielding need to conquer an ever-present fear deeply rooted in our formative teenage years, an anxiety that is anything but temporary; the fear of being misunderstood.