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Review: Archy Marshall’s Alter Egos Are Moody and Mature on ‘A New Place 2 Drown’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: December 11, 2015
Label: True Panther / XL

Archy Marshall has been gradually creaking the door open, letting the light in on his gloaming guttersnipe blues, ever since uploading U.F.O.W.A.V.E. his 2010 collection of minimally produced guitar scribbles as Zoo Kid — to his Bandcamp. Two years later, all of those tracks — including likely “Is This It?” ripper “Has This Hit” (Marshall has flattered Julian Casablancas in the sincerest way before) and his breakout back-porch ballad “Out Getting Ribs” — were groomed and polished for his proper debut LP, 2013’s 6 Feet Underneath the Moon. Once his gravelly sneer of a Cockney accent was simultaneously stripped down and amplified, Marshall renamed himself King Krule, striking with harder consonantal blows than his softer, singsong-y given name. Now, after one Willow Smith cover, two solo name changes, and the introduction of Brainfeeder-ready jazz loops he produces as DJ JD Sports and Edgar the Beatmaker, Marshall has eponymously returned.

A New Place 2 Drown is a joint multimedia endeavor — ten-minute documentary, 208-page art and poetry book, and 37-minute soundtrack — between Archy and his may-as-well-be-twin brother Jack, whose giggly ginger faces belie the musical accompaniment’s opium-stoned blue tone. Jack has actually been involved in the visual process before: Inspired by Sin City sketcher Frank Miller and graphic novelist Charles Burns, he designed the cubist cover for 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. (This project also follows a collaborative gallery exhibition the two had last year, “Inner City Ooz.” Not to be outdone, Jack introduced his own artistic alter ego, Mstr Gone.) Such abstract images share glossy page space with grainy shots of the Marshalls and the gang out getting jerk wings, the tube, a park, and nighttime cityscapes of varying lucidity.

Some images in the book feature overlaid text, like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late-styled chicken-scratch over a blurry plane in the sky or black-and-white Japanese lanterns hanging from some apartment ceiling. Scattered on typewritten pages between those images are poems, which sometimes reappear as lyrics in songs on the accompanying New Place 2 Drown — about kissing flies, f**king girls, mental health, and acid tabs; they’re lines Archy obviously takes great pleasure in writing.

The occasionally somewhat disturbing words he pens for that medium knock around on the page with the same ease that they roll out of his mouth. “You slip and slip and slip and slide / And let this guy inside what I thought was mine,” he writes in greasy ink on “Manimal,” before listing his lover’s indiscretions again on “Arise Dear Brother,” a sleepily urbanized luau that settles into an organ-led, snare-cracked groove. On that note, more than 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, Drown prickles with production noise: surges of electronic static, hollow echoes of samples, and piddling blurps that coagulate into a pattern as textured and head-nodding as SBTRKT’s self-titled debut, or Jamie xx‘s deep dives into dance music.

But back to the book. The accusations of infidelity on “Manimal” segue fittingly — sadly — into “A Conversation Between Me and My Penis,” an onanistic soliloquy that also swims just beneath the shadowy surface of “Sex With Nobody,” a glinting, Drown‘d tumble through Marshall’s free associations of bodily fluids and unfettered rhymes (“A relaxed marriage on an island in the South Pacific / So many dogs to be specific”). As the U.K.’s better-known crop of fresh-faced singer-songwriters pales to deeper shades of bland, Marshall’s world-weary stare and street-urchin scruff becomes an ever-brightening beacon for London’s darker alleyways — especially as the storied clubs that nurtured the forebears of his skittering, dubby production shutter their lights.

Sure, his damn-the-man, blue-collar predecessors like Billy Bragg might turn up their nose at the pretentious excess of an art book and an album, but A New Place 2 Drown puts to shame James Franco’s photo gallery of Lana Del Rey’s California dreaming. Marshall’s whole world comes together as you’re flipping through candid stills of his mum cutting his hair while listening to accompanying tracks on the record’s samplings of corny British TV shows, or looking at a photo of a girl’s nearly-straight curtain of brown hair as guest vocalist Jamie Isaac croons, “She plays me Barry White.” As he wrote in the original Bandcamp credits for “Out Getting Ribs”: “The lyrics are very intellectual and so listeners who know me stand no chance in understanding them. An outsider however may be of some accurate interpretation.” Now, everyone’s coming a little bit closer to Marshall — and Edgar, Zoo, DJ, and King.