With his fourth studio album Space Heavy, South London’s proudest son, Archy Marshall, returns with his most introspective, honest and intimate record yet. At the centre of this latest King Krule project is the disquieting issue of space; the distance between artist and audience, between lovers, between the ever unfolding chapters of life's pages, between the comfort of familiarity and the miasmatic experience of acculturation to the unknown. Here, Marshall sheds his well worn coat of burning iconoclasm to reveal a healing, nebulous interior, reckoning with loss on myriad levels.
For Marshall, the music has always been more about feeling than experience. Droves of fans who seldom comprehend the lyrics on a semantic level, can feel the visceral, evocative nature of the music deeply nonetheless. Perhaps it is this sentiment that has encouraged such extensive hypothecation and speculation on the topics, meanings and causality of his work - from his very first releases. Or perhaps it’s those entrails of mystery and intrigue that stitch together a public persona that he only consolidates through limited social media usage and selective, hermetic interaction with the press. Either way, it seems that with Space Heavy he has no intention to revise this stance, reinforcing that impermeable shell that cloaks the King Krule moniker.
The immediate reception for Space Heavy has been mixed. Stalwart listeners and critics have struggled to grasp the meteoric trajectory of Marshall's discography to date. The initial reception of 2020’s Man Alive was similar. After his raw and relentlessly captivating album The Ooz, which attracted his initial listener base and is widely considered his finest work, the more downtempo, lamentful and stripped back numbers that have defined his post-Ooz releases have subverted the juvenile, nihilistic and anarchic sounds. This naive expectation of new music on the listeners' terms has become a regretfully archaic and characteristic flagpole of the indie music scene.
Marshall was just sixteen when he began recording music under the name Zoo Kid on bandcamp, to search for endless permutations of these earlier tracks is a futile exercise and certainly raises questions about the music community. Fifteen years on from the first mixtapes and EPs, it is time for fans to realise that this is an artist who has been trying to shake off the shadow of previous releases and the burden of categorisation and expectation for years now.
With this latest record, the pronounced lassitude that we have come to associate with Marshall, makes way for a muted, introspective optimism. Marshall, now 28 and a father, likely no longer feels so passionately about bureaucratic stashes, skunk, pills, drool and being six feet under. In a recent interview with Paste Mag’s Matt Mitchell, during the build up to the release of Space Heavy, Archy noted that his 2015’s Six Feet Beneath the Moon, for example, “was probably gonna always stand out as one of the rawest pieces because it was when I was young.” As a talented prodigy, consistently bookmarked as the saviour of any avant-garde rock offshoot from the pretentious branches of expansive genres, and more importantly, as the posterboy for a subaltern, disaffected legion of stoned youths, there was a lot of pressure early on, and a real risk of being boxed in. Marshall goes on to admit that, “part of me was playing into that, as well. My ego was definitely getting stroked in different ways.”
The sprawling, bilious fever-dream offered by his Ooz-realm wasn’t performative or reactionary - it was a microcosm of himself then which came as naturally as Space Heavy does now. The online magazine Blackbird Spyplane conducted a interview with Marshall, in which he goes through his old notebooks; the amalgamation which created his earlier material - “A lot of it came from a very low, dark place, of me not really understanding why I was being heralded for my music. So I’d probably prefer to burn all of them than look at them again.” Space Heavy embodies a natural extension of the stylistic rift constituted by Man Alive in 2020 and speaks to a heightened creative autonomy in the wake of years suffocating by praise and expectation.
The essence of the sound has become associated with King Krule still isn’t hard to find in this new material. Characteristic themes of romance, loneliness, emptiness and searching remain ubiquitous, with tracks like ‘Pink Shell’ and ‘Hamburgerphobia’ quenching that sleazy, belligerent thirst for those of us looking for that sound. Equally, tracks like ‘Empty Stomach Space Cadet’ (certainly a focalising song in the album), are pleasingly reminiscent of the cult classic early EP and djjdsport mixtapes with its drum machine-esque loops and layered, drifting, disintegrating vocals. ’Empty Stomach’ is also significant because of its positionality in the ever stratifying tale of the leitmotif character in Marshall’s work - the space cadet. Where this fragment of the artistic ego once served as the vessel for creatively channelling anger, rage and confusion, Marshall seems now to be offloading this outgrown friend, starving his “empty stomach of weed.” It feels that this emancipation comes with some contrition, the contrition of righteous loss that this album explores extensively. The cadet was “there through thick and thin,” and his departure signals a creative divergence that is symbolic of the same artistic growth mentioned earlier that is so pronounced on this record.
Atmospheric gems ‘Flimsy’ (recalling the theme of single Flimsier) and ‘When Vanishing evoke’ that familiar lofty, spacious soundscape that he mastered on The Ooz - in a way, Space Heavy manages to identify with all of King Krule’s previous sonic explorations whilst compacting them into a more concise, coherent and uniform record than he has arguably been able to manage previously. Despite the average song length being only 2m59s, Space Heavy feels just as long as his previous records but does indeed squeeze itself on to one single vinyl, this is good news as he mentions in the interview with Paste that, “two’s a bit much sometimes.”
The transitional space that this new record holds in Marshall's discography may have something to do with transition on a personal level, travelling back and forth from London to Liverpool. Tracks like Seaforth and That is My Life, That is Yours, see King Krule seeking in new haunts answers to old questions. The entire album presents feelings of emotional completion and finality in relationships and stages but deals conversely with introspective issues where there remains confusion and distance. This dark, heavy space might sprawl out between people but you feel that it is also beginning to be felt between the crumbling familiarity that framed King Krule’s London years. Those of us from London can palate these emotions quite literally though these tracks - Bishopsgate and Seaforth being real terra incognita for those of us who are familiar with such mainstays as the Nunhead Reservoir, Bermondsey’s neutral zones, Peckham Rye’s park benches, even the 363/N63 route.
Whereas Marshall’s past tracks could break loose into frenzies of feedback and snarls, the creative transition into Space Heavy sees him streamlining the melody into focus and really accentuating the talismanic songwriting that for a long while has been overshadowed by the subsuming persona. In doing so, the tracks now better highlight the prowess of the well oiled and functioning band that Marshall has built around him, saxophonist Ignacio Salvadores is incredible and truly shines on this record, weaving in lines that are entirely individual yet aptly complementary of the band's sound. Those who have seen any of this new material performed live will know that Marshall has retained his taste for the characteristic King Krule yelps, screams and grunts, bringing a more visceral side to these well polished tracks. Perhaps the turbulence of his audience’s shared experiences in these intermittent years has fooled us into expecting an equally turbulent record, one that reaches the apogee of the rage, frustration and raw emotion that we’ve seen boiling away in his music over the last decade. Really however, Space Heavy is the most obvious and natural extension of his discography, finding peace, and suitably weaving a fresh perspective into his iconic sound. Hopefully it will encourage listeners to accept that this man won’t be regurgitating ‘A Lizard State’ for all eternity.
Edited by Lucy Blackmur and Akane Hayashi, Music Editors