We consume media.
Media consumes us.
The politics, music, sports and pop culture of this day and age are a catalyst for how we connect with society and the peers around us. We find ourselves enamored with the idea that behind the glow of our phone screens and television sets are real people perched upon influential pedestals.
For Archy Marshall, these digitized glimpses into our vast planet and its inhabitants can be too much to handle. They thrust old, sullen memories into our psyche. They milk macabre social topics with seemingly no call to action. For some, these situations are as real as ever. For others, they’re nothing more than a grouping of words and pictures peeking through the glow of our smartphones.
On “Cellular,” the introductory record to Man Alive!, Marshall falls victim to the perils of the media he is watching:
There’s a television
There’s a television speaking to me
There’s a French girl
On my television
She’s crying in the palm of my hand
The French woman he sees through his TV set conjures up previously buried memories of his ex, a “coming to terms” moment that we see Marshall revisit time and time again on Man Alive!. His tone, however, makes it abundantly clear that he has no interest in singing about these distant moments in his life, yet the media machine rolls on.
This is where we see the murky and crowded genius that is King Krule inadvertently flexing his muscles. The overarching theme of Man Alive! is media “control” for lack of a better term, and yet Marshall allows his mind to flow freely from this centralized theme to a number of short, introspective narrative tales.
Marshall is in full control of his pen throughout the project, and these conceptual pivots feel as if the mind of the artist at hand is flipping channels from Fox News to Dateline NBC to the Hallmark Channel.
“Comet Face” is a shining example of these brief flashes in everyday life. Marshall beautifully illustrates the story of an encounter he has while out on the town in Peckham Rye (a neighborhood of London he frequently spends time in). It’s moments like these that give a clear explanation to the album’s in-cohesive nature. Marshall often finds himself wedged between real-life encounters and nebulous visions that come to life in his head through his phone or TV.
We see these two realities clash at full-speed on “Slinky,” a mid-late album track in which Marshall poetically recalls a dream that’s consumed his mental state, but a dream that feels as though its manifesting itself before his very eyes.
As the album draws to a close, we are greeted with “Please Complete Thee,” whose instrumentation and tone are as dark and desperate as it’s fleeting theme. Archy Marshall begs for a lost lover to bridge loose ends.
“Ero’s bow has no archer” he exclaims - something missing, and the endless journey to find the huntsman who wields the bow feels as though it has no end.
He feels empty in a world that makes no effort to reconcile for its damaged occupants. Instead, he must settle for the pacifier that is mass media… and so the cycle continues.
We are no stranger to this infinite loop. We fill voids and missing pieces in our life with the comfort and ease of day-to-day media consumption. It’s all around us, quite literally impossible to phase out.
King Krule is trying to let this isolated feeling go, but the bright hum of screens that surround him remain agonizingly persistent.
Archy Marshall’s third studio record is a television broadcast with a mind of its own. Two years removed from the undeniable triumph that is The OOZ, London’s cryptic songwriter sheds light on the media and its hypnotizing tendencies - a feat he accomplishes without sacrificing many of the sounds that make King Krule one of music’s most mysterious figures.
The question I found myself pondering as the final seconds of Man Alive! concluded is this: when we're flipping through channels, what are we really looking for?
No one, not even Archy Marshall, can answer that.