Written by Jourdan Russell
The inevitable thing about being one of British Music’s most enigmatic, best-kept secrets is that the talent and uniqueness of one’s music will eventually lead them into the spotlight with a breakthrough project. The issue with London-born Archy Marshall was never a matter of when, though, but of how – the 23-year old operates under 3 different musical aliases (one of them being his own name, under which he released 2015’s cerebral A New Place 2 Drown), each with a different focus. As Zoo Kid, he performed heartfelt, verbose ballads. Under Archy Marshall, he channelled trip hop into a wholly uniquely drowned and textured soundscape. However, the most well-known is King Krule, a project that blends his diverse musical influences and production styles, all while serving his distinctly surreal croon.
It can be argued that King Krule’s music is much more powerful because Marshall’s voice is so intent on making a statement. On The OOZ, Marshall overcomes writer’s block and emotional battles with an epiphany that is central to the musical odyssey. “It’s all about the gunk”, he told Pitchfork earlier this autumn. “You don’t ever think [that subconsciously] my brain’s creating all this gunk, this forcefield. And I guess that kind of saved [the album].”
It’s clear that each track on The OOZ is its own form of therapy, from Marshall’s purging cries on Slush Puppy to the after-dark monologue of Czech One. Set behind a litany of different instrumentals, from brusque post-punk guitar riffs to jazz, Marshall spills his soul all over the album, and as the listener we’re invited to pick up the pieces and fall deeper into the songs’ narratives. There’s a weird sense of timelessness to the album as you listen to it – songs don’t ever blend into one another but as you stop to consider Marshall’s obtuse yet aesthetically appealing songwriting, you don’t realise how engrossed you are in The OOZ’s universe, submerged in its allegory. Turns of phrase like “waltzing deep space lullaby” read initially like poetic nonsense on first listen until you fit it into the context provided later in Cadet Limbo (“I walked across you everyday/ As I floated along/ Spent most of my time orbiting your waist”).
Not every song here sticks such gusto, however. Sublunary is a song that’s just too minimal, merely referencing other King Krule songs and projects Marshall’s co-created, while The Locomotive doesn’t have the verve or musicality of the songs the precede and follow it in Biscuit Town and single Dum Surfer. While the misfires on The OOZ can be argued to be necessary to painting its epic tapestry, it’s a shame that not every song was created with the same poignancy, urgency or deftness of songwriting as the lead singles or deep cuts like Emergency Blimp, The Ooz or Vidual.
No matter. When you manage to articulate and bring form to your most complex and challenging emotions and personal battles, you’re not entirely in control of how it manifests itself or how it will be understood. That is a key reason to understanding the underlying beauty of The OOZ; the fact that the pain, distress, struggles with love and family are so cathartic and easy to empathise with, listen after listen, is testament to the album’s brilliance. It’s best shown on Half Man Half Shark – at face value, the song that shows his love for his ex-lover and his powerful bond with his brother, but once you dig deeper into the world of The OOZ (and by extension, the world of Archy Marshall), you realise that the song pays homage to a song his father composed called Body Of a Man in the Belly of a Horse. It’s this level of nuance in song craft that makes for such an entertaining listen, and will continue to have people listening for years to come.
With previous albums, Marshall had either plunged himself into space or drowned himself in his own mind. The OOZ’s album cover looks up at the sky at an at once alien yet beautiful scene in the sky, from the ground. The force field is gone, the gunk is out, and all that’s left is the man, safe.
Listen to The OOZ below.