The edge of late night and early morning — somewhere between 1:15 and 3:30 AM. Preferably a weeknight. Six or seven blocks on the walk home without seeing another human person, even in a crowded city. Brown liquor, ingested readily but several hours before. Summer breeze in your face, humidity sapped from the day. These are the perfect atmospheric conditions — internally and externally — to enjoy King Krule’s debut LP, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. You’ll want to match the sublimity of the music with some sublimity of your own. It’s only fair.
Archy Marshall is young (didn’t you know?), only 19, and that has the music press understandably awed at his seemingly readymade talent and supremely confident songwriting. But once you accept Marshall’s considerable chops and outsized voice, it shouldn’t surprise you that a teenager wrote 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. Tapping into the heady romanticism that permeates every second of this record gets more and more difficult the further one gets from 16. It just happens that Marshall possesses a shockingly mature outlook and better taste than most 40-year-olds, and this helps him harness that youthful, starry-eyed filter and use it to create something intoxicating instead of the cloying mixture of self-aggrandizement and oversharing that marks most adolescent music. In other words, King Krule has come, blessedly, to sweep Wavves to the bottom of the ocean.
It helps, too, that Marshall has digested the new teenage music of London — the haunted textures of dubstep, before Skrillex and the molly crowd sullied the genre’s good name — and the old — the snarl of Joe Strummer and post-punk’s love affair with flecks of reggae and dub guitar—in equal measure. Not that King Krule writes dubstep or punk rock. Rather, Marshall skims those styles for texture and attitude, injecting his jittery, jazz-lite rhythms and clean guitar with welcome wobbles of bass, swaths of negative space, and the grit of his incredible voice. A moment for that voice: as fluid as the contents of a bottle of cheap whiskey smashed in the street, a baritone capable of distancing with its ugliness and rounded vowels or bringing you close in moments where Marshall drops the affectation, it’s the centerpiece of the mix here and rightfully so. The expressiveness of the vocals adds flesh to Marshall’s skeletal songs.
Fortunately, Marshall’s lyrics hold up to the level of attention his voice will bring to them, impressionistic bits of lost romance and urban malaise, alternatingly crooned, growled, and spat in half-rap. His ear for rhythm extends beyond the stuttering groove of his technique with a guitar and into wordplay on the page and in the air. “Has This His” offers a good example, with Marshall’s voice ringing in reverb: “I know when I look into the sky, there is no meaning, / Girl, I’m the only one believing, / And though there’s nothing to believe in, / I’m dreaming, / My aspirations caught a ceiling / Where I’m constantly cleaning / The scars of your dealings.” He manages moments like these again and again, thrilling syllabic joyrides spread out over an hour and 14 tracks.
The highlights here feel less like individual songs than movements in a long composition, whether the sultry riff than anchors “Foreign”, or the sleepy pleading of “Baby Blue”, or the stark impact of “Out Getting Ribs”. You could drop in on 6 Feet Beneath the Moon at any moment and let it unspool to its end, looping back to the start, and feel as captivated as you would at any other point of entry. It’s the type of record to weave itself into your own rhythms — footsteps, breath, pulse — until it feels like a part of your life’s texture. If that sounds melodramatic, remember: you were 19 sometime, too.