Last December, the 21-year-old British artist formerly known as King Krule released his first album under his own name, Archy Marshall. A significant stylistic departure from his previous work, Marshall’s album,“A New Place 2 Drown,” may befuddle or even disappoint King Krule fans. Although “A New Place 2 Drown” could have stood on its own as a compelling work of art, it fails to do so due to its over-reliance on electronic background music, mediocre rapping, and admittedly clever track titles.
The album begins with the mostly instrumental track “Any God of Yours,” immediately revealing the abandonment of the guitar riffs and howling that has come to define King Krule’s unique and unsettling sound. As with the albums of Moby or Linkin Park, the opening track serves more as a prelude with no connecting beginning; perhaps it is also an interlude between Marshall’s previous persona and his current one.
In “Swell,” the opening lyrics of the song and the album are simply Marshall muttering “a new place to drown” followed by his brother “singing” the same line with better diction; the synthesizer in the background builds tension. The biggest weakness of Marshall’s album is his overuse of the synthesizer and electronic background music, unaccompanied by his traditional blues guitar. Marshall also sacrifices some of the complex lyrics that have been featured in his spoken word songs as King Krule, such as “Cementality,” by making “Swell” his boldest foray into rapping.
Marshall’s successful fusion of jazz, blues, and soul motifs that made him a prodigy in his work as King Krule appear again in “Arise Dear Brother,” where brass horns and a snare drum add depth to the chugging electronic beat. Similarly, Marshall’s guitar reappears in “Ammi Ammi,” but it fails to reach the depth achieved in “Arise Dear Brother.” Instead, he settles for a middle-of-the-road toking song that British and American teenagers can vibe to as they check for cops in the parking lot behind their munchies destination of choice.
“Sex With Nobody” is in dialogue with music’s equivalent of Dada or the Theater of the Absurd. The best example of this genre would be the eccentric montage group The Avalanches’ 2004 hit “Frontier Psychiatrist,” better known as the song consisting of strange audio clips from the ’50s, horse sounds, and the repetition of the line “that boy needs therapy.” Marshall’s homage features a British standup comedian making sexual innuendos, overlaid with Marshall’s distorted voice sounding as if he inhaled a five-year-old’s birthday party’s worth of balloons. Marshall half raps, half speaks incoherent verses about dogs and specificity, leaving the listener deeply confused. Unfortunately, like many other songs on this album, the track title is the most interesting part.
Not all is lost, however. “Empty Vessels” and “New Builds” percolate with intricate electronic music, anticipating the masterful conclusion of the album that ranks in Marshall’s top five best tracks so far in his career. In these tracks, Marshall finally achieves a sort of equilibrium with his ambitious background music by relying on his traditional singing voice. Perhaps this works better because Marshall’s words harmonize with the beats, rather than attempting to outdo them with poor rapping.
The title of the album becomes clear in “Thames Water,” which is Marshall’s place to drown. Nuanced lyrics and a low-key electronic ambiance, combined with horns and a xylophone, make for a sublime track. Building on the intoxication that the album elicits throughout, the track begins with, “I don’t make money off them anymore / He said, reaching for the pile of scores / I offer no remorse / Man sat at the bar waging his wars / Onto the cats enjoying their main course / And I guess these speakers help ignore / Bartender knows all my floors.” Then, with a haunting cadence, Marshall sings, “She looks as if she knows / She looks as if she knows / She looks as if she knows / My blood is good.” The refrain hones in on the love interest who has been loosely alluded to throughout the album. “Somethin’ in the water contorted her mind / Distorted on the border with war in our eyes / This inner city life treats me like / Shit.”
The double entendre of Marshall’s place to drown, implying both his music and the Thames River, perfectly encapsulates the schism that defines his work. He is both lucid and intoxicated when he slurs his riddles. He has an excellent singing voice, yet he chooses to rap. As former writer for The Argus Gabrielle Bruney wrote in 2013, “His voice is compelling, but it’s just one of the many contrasts that make Marshall so fascinating and critically adored—the baby Brit with the big voice, the little lad with the sad songs.”