King Krule – The Ooz (XL)

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King Krule is one of the most interesting artists going around at the moment. Interesting because it is impossible to pin his music down stylistically. The English-born Archy Marshall is a singer, songwriter, and rapper whose music encompasses everything from jazz, post-punk, trip hop and hip hop. Marshall has just released his second studio album as King Krule, The Ooz following on from 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon.

Influenced by the likes of Gene Vincent, J Dilla, and Billy Bragg, Krule’s voice conjures up comparisons to the likes of Tom Waits, Joe Strummer and Mark E. Smith. Musically, his growling Waits-like vocal style combines nicely across this album with trip hop beats, as well as flourishes of jazz guitar, sax, and piano. It is a very ambitious record in terms of its overall, often haunting sound, as well as its experimental nature, and length, coming in at nineteen tracks.

The music on The Ooz despite having a British post-punk aesthetic sounds like nothing else released this year. The closest album from recent times I can think of whose sound resembles what Marshall has created here is Blackstar by David Bowie, while the gloomy and at times brooding nature of the production on this album reminds me of trip hop group Portishead and the dark atmospheric nature of albums like Dummy.

The tone of the album is set apart from the get-go with Biscuit Town and The Locomotive, a nice one-two start, with the latter track sounding very Tom Waits circa Swordfishtrombones. With Dum Surfer we then get a first taste of the saxophone which appears throughout the record. A sax sound which is very Bowie-like and adds a lot to the albums dynamic. Then, despite his largely aggressive and growly vocal style, Marshall still has time for some tender moments on tracks such as Slush Puppy, where he shows off his vocal versatility and range.

After an excellent start, the album begins to feel like it is losing its way by the end of side one. The tracks here seem to go on a little longer than needed, and you would think at nineteen tracks long whether some editing would have been a good idea. Tracks like Lonely Blue and Cadet Limbo spring to mind.

And just when you think the album is going to peter out to an unsatisfactory end, the proto-punk of Emergency Blimp picks things up nicely with a strong driving beat and plenty of energy that some of the previous tracks failed to muster. This is followed by the tender dive bar keyboard jazz of Czech One and Half Man Half Shark, the last of the pre-album singles and what is probably the heart of the album. His harsh vocal combines amazingly with a gloomy underbelly of shuffling beats and electronic sounds in what for me is one of the best songs of the year. The album then climaxes nicely with the swirling mystery of title track The Ooz, the slow jazz of Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver), and the Chet Baker-infused La Lune.

All up, King Krule has created a masterful work here which should be viewed as one whole rather than as an album of nineteen individual tracks. The Ooz is a proper album in the truest sense of the world, with each song relying on the strength of the others collectively to work as a piece within a wider puzzle.

Some have described it as a self-indulgent record, which it probably is, and it does wander off on different tangents quite a bit in the middle, however, this is excusable given the quality of songwriting on display.

On the evidence of this album, I can safely say that King Krule is a seriously talented musician. And if The Ooz is the blueprint for where he intends to take his career, then it will be a fun ride watching where he goes next.

Sam Smith