PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Photo: Charlotte Patmore / Courtesy of Orienteer

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Man Alive!
King Krule

True Panther Sounds / Matador

21 February 2020

King Krule's 2017 album The OOZ clarified what was well-known to people who had tracked the London wunderkind's every release and moniker for six years: here was someone capable of a classic album. There were flashes of brilliance at every turn from "Zoo Kid" to just simply Archy Marshall for the mostly-overlooked A New Place 2 Drown, but The OOZ saw him hone his aesthetic and craft a soundscape that worked for him and him alone. Saxophones and guitars were imbued with a cosmic drift as Marshall stood in the center, saying something profound, indistinct, or (often) both.

That's why while being an appointed leader in indie rock, Marshall is very much not part of the scene. He's not interested in ruminative bedroom lyrics, folksy guitar playing, or even having any social media presence. While the biggest indie musicians succeed in being a bit of an open book, Marshall remains spectral – only reaching emotion when he goes into a trademark blood-curdling squawk.

Man Alive! doesn't eat into that image one bit, and determining how much you wanted something different from King Krule will tell you how much of an essential release this is. Even The OOZ had its detractors with some critics calling it idiosyncratic, unfocused, and too long, but only Man Alive!'s brisk 41-minute runtime might win them over. The album also comes filled without many distinct melodies to latch onto, especially in the absence of anything as snappy as "Dum Surfer" or "Biscuit Town". The first half does have some strong standalone tracks though in "Cellular", "Stoned Again"," and "Comet Face". The last among these is the most danceable with a thick bassline and a deftly-employed saxophone in its crescendo and outro.

Marshall's lyricism remains beautifully inscrutable and passionate in equal measure. His go-to metaphors of sinking, floating, and dreaming are dispersed throughout tales of failed romance and urban malaise. After the album's first stretch of immediate standalone tracks, Man Alive! settles into a cinematic groove where the song arrangements are as nebulous as the lyrics and Marshall's toasty cigarette-burn vocals. You can feel the spirit of Serge Gainsbourg revived when King Krule has these lengthy album stretches; it's best just to kick back and forgo intense deciphering. Now for some, this is where King Krule's aesthetic starts to get aimless, and it's understandable, but that belief is associated with a need for rock music to be less ambient and have more of a forceful purpose. The muted pleasures of something like "Airport Antenatal Airplane" beg to differ.

Man Alive!'s biggest drawback is also makes it enjoyable; it doesn't separate itself enough from The OOZ. Many would enjoy King Krule releasing this type of album every few years, but that would come with a shrinking audience and less fanfare around each successive release. It's a curse making the classic record you were meant to make. You're left afterward trying to reinvent yet knowing that what you're doing is working.

Despite that, Man Alive! is one of the year's best front-to-back listens – one that never diverges from its polished soundscape. In that way, it's on par with Tame Impala's The Slow Rush, which came out a week before. They're both albums that won't necessarily win over former critics, but proves the acts' distinct aesthetics are still captivating.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.