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It must feel strange for Archy Marshall to read reviews of his music. Not that it's an easy task for any musician; reading criticism of your own work is always a little weird, but for Marshall – who caught the music press's attention when he was 16, in 2010, with the downbeat song Out Getting Ribs, and this weekend released his debut album as King Krule via XL – it must be especially surreal, given the reviews are invariably written by people older than him. Almost without exception they dwell on how astounding it is that a person of his age could manage to make music in the way he does, and it's true that Marshall is gifted with a voice, a swagger and a technical capability that many his age don't have (as a graduate of the Brit School, his songwriting capabilities are streets ahead, and his voice is one of the most dramatically arresting and captivating of the moment). But crucially, his is not music that could have been made any better by someone older than him – '6 Feet Beneath The Moon' is an album that feels like it could only have been made by an 18-going-on-19-year-old.
Long, frustratingly tedious or explosively tempestuous days of adolescence are the fabric of this album, and while the reviewers in the paper and the rakish young man they're writing about are standing either side of that experience, it's Marshall's blindingly astute communication that narrows the gap and gives every listener something to hold on to. The language of this album, for a start, takes you deep inside that mindset – Ceiling touches on blank hours spent staring upwards for inspiration, and on dreams that are curtailed by a penned-in sense of space, which Marshall alludes to again in one of the album's stand-outs Has It Hit? as he rasps "my aspiration's got a ceiling". Will I Come and Has It Hit? both ask clipped questions that hang unanswered, while Baby Blue captures an intense romantic urge but renders it faceless and fantastical by repeating "babe" and "girl" over and over, with lines like "girl I could have been someone…to you" seeming passionate, but promising nothing in particular.
The musicality of the record is matched perfectly to this spiralling, intensely self-aware world created by the lyrics. The album seems to follow a dwindling arc, from the jeering anthem that is opening track Easy Easy to the muted musings of Bathed In Grey; moments of intense energy are punctuated by quiet reflection, and the constant element is Marshall's unmistakable, acrobatic vocal. Baby Blue and A Lizard State reach out to past lives with drunken blues and staccato, jazzy horns, meshed with almost-raps and fading into the underground pulsations of Will I Come. It's a sound that is wholly Marshall's – both referential and unique, both old and new. From fragments of times he never lived through, he creates a perfect sonic collage of the time he's living in right now.
If this album suffers, it's because of a lack of direction and impetus that's inherent in its subject matter. King Krule's debut album epitomises the long stretch of entrapment, tedium, drama and self-reflection that comes with being young, but this means that musically it is often meandering or lacking in finality. Many of the songs limply fade away as though unsure how to deal with themselves, such as Krockadile and the too-short Will I Come, which is abruptly cut off by a sample while in its prime (though this is undoubtedly part of the point). Bearing in mind Marshall's perspective, it seems like if his songs had done anything other than drift aimlessly and project shifting, unstable identities then they wouldn't have been true to their purpose or their creator; so, kind of inevitably, it doesn't make for the most enthralling listen, but it's still an incredibly honest and rich one from an entirely unique star.
XL released '6 Feet Beneath the Moon' on the 24th August 2013.