When UK singer-songwriter Archy Marshall, aka King Krule, released “Easy Easy” at age 18, he was quickly bestowed that most unshakable of albatrosses: “the new voice of a generation.” It was clear from that breakthrough single—a spare slice-of-life slab of minimalist punk, just his Cockney baritone and an electric guitar, equal parts Billy Bragg and The Stranglers—that Marshall had an uncanny confidence of vision. But the self-assuredness that made him so appealing was also what allowed him to reject the mantle altogether (and turn down an invite to make music with Kanye West) and instead go further down the rabbit hole of his musical curiosities. It’s also why his next three records are so gorgeously weird, the work of a dedicated student of the underground, who could bring together punk, soul, rock, dub, noise, lounge jazz, bits of woozy hip-hop and dance, and make it all sound like the best kind of pop—uncalculated, effortless, visceral.
Picking up where the more leftfield tunes from 2017’s The OOZ left off, the first chunk of Man Alive!, Marshall's fourth studio LP, finds him still stuck in that fever dream, mulling and yawping—even sort of rapping—over lost connections (literal and metaphorical, on “Cellular") and his misspent youth (“Stoned Again”). But real life steps in somewhere around "Perfecto Miserable”—Marshall is a new father, happily splitting his time between his native South London and Cheshire, nearer to his partner's family—and the mood lightens a bit as he sings lines like “You're my everything/You make me feel all right” and, on "Alone, Omen 3,” "You're not alone, my girl.” Most emblematic of that tone shift is how he gently serenades himself on a transatlantic flight on “Airport Antenatal Airplane,” a tribute to his daughter. No matter how present or urgent so much of Marshall’s music can seem, often built into it is an ache and a desire to drift away, whether physically or through the use of intoxicants. That sense of disorientation and escapism hasn't gone away even slightly, but it’s never before sounded so optimistic.