Friday, October 13, 2017

King Krule - The Ooz Review

For many cult-like followers, this past summer held an event of great magnitude and joy. That was The Return of Twin Peaks, a long-cherished, genre-busting mystery thriller that, in the 25 years since its inception, has gone on to become one of the more influential television shows of all-time. In many ways, King Krule's return project, The Ooz, can be seen in a similar, albeit dimmer light. Since surfacing in 2010 as a scrawny, ginger-haired, 16-year old soul-searcher, Archy Marshall has gained a following solely devoted to deciphering his cotton-mouthed enigma. Much like Twin Peaks, his debut project, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon, was strange, unorthodox, original, and genre-busting. And then, also like Twin Peaks, it took years for the untapped potential to return. Now sure, four years isn't really comparable to 25, but for a then 19-year old prodigy, each passing minute was a tick and a tock towards irrelevancy. Earlier this year, Krule returned with 'Czech One,' a curious spectacle that bedazzled in the quietest of corners. Then, he knocked it out of the park with the all-encompassing 'Dum Surfer,' a song's which music video borrowed heavily from, you guessed it, Twin Peaks. Much like the David Lynch-created series, The Ooz is a conundrum, an endless cavern of conflicting emotions and boundary-pushing ideas.

On opener 'Biscuit Town,' King Krule contemplates the tenuous ups and downs of a non-relationship, one that he desperately attempts to string together through The Ooz. Amongst a sea of non-sequitur shout-outs that include namedropping Coca-Cola, Franco Zola, and whatever Olympic Ebola is, Marshall causally mentions that "I think she thinks I'm bipolar." After trekking through The Ooz's irregular, unreliable, and erratic structuring, even doubting that thought would prove unreasonable. Even though he's escaped the adolescent age where love as a concept is anything but concrete, Marshall's emotional incongruity still plagues the hopeless heartthrob. This isn't unusual by King Krule's standards, as 6 Feet Beneath The Moon contained much of the same frail dialogue. The Ooz, however, expands upon that tremendously, pitting two paradoxical sides against one another. On one half, you have the fragile teenage melodrama, a fascinating, multi-layered conjecture that's rarely explored, soundly, due to ill-equipped teenagers existing at the heart of the ethos. On the other, a supremely talented artist capable of correlating emotion to music. Rarely do the two come together, but here they do so effortlessly. The Ooz is a dense and difficult look at delicate emotional imbalance.

For starters, there's 19 songs, which inadvertently reveals Marshall's indecisiveness. How do you make a cohesive project when your own life exists aboard a rocky ship during the perfect storm? There's no better spot to analyze this than the section between the two cadet's; 'Cadet Limbo' and 'The Cadet Leaps.' Like a rising and falling tide, virtually every track in the eight-song stretch opposes the preceding one. 'Emergency Blimp,' one of The Ooz's rollicking Alternative Rock cuts, bearing a rhythmic similarity to the Smashing Pumpkins' '1979,' abruptly stalls into the cold, lush, and nuanced 'Czech One.' Then, 'A Slide In (New Drugs),' which borrows from Bradford Cox's downcast during Deerhunter lulls, scene shifts to an upbeat, aquatic, western in 'Vidual.' It's very likely those three terms have never been used to describe a single song before, causing 'Vidual' to be one of the more inventive pieces on the LP. Finally, rounding out the rollercoaster of emotions is the transition between the mutinous Post-Punk of 'Half Man Half Shark' and the transitional soundtrack ambience of 'The Cadet Leaps.' It's this sound - reclusive, wavering, and weighty - that grapples focus on the final four tracks, causing The Ooz to wind down gradually rather than end with unexpected intensity.

With all this in mind, it's easy to see why The Ooz is as challenging as it is. Throughout the ponderous 67 minutes, King Krule never allows listeners the chance to relax into expectations. Even if there are tracks like 'Lonely Blue' or 'La Lune,' which nestle comfortably in Krule's past, nothing surrounding them feels stagnant enough to appease casual fans passing by to gander at Marshall's iconic vocals. Sonically, after hearing The Ooz, you're left to wonder how we even questioned Krule's genre foothold after 6 Feet Beneath The Moon. Compared to his follow-up, the debut is pedestrian. There's multiple Jazz-oriented segues ('Sublunary,' 'Cadet Limbo'), a handful of gut-wrenching outbursts ('The Locomotive,' 'The Ooz'), two complementary spoken word interludes ('Bermondsey Bosom' left and right), and even your fair share of standard Art Pop trumpeting ('Logos,' 'Biscuit Town'). To illustrate the sweeping spectrum of the LP, we time travel to a car ride between my mother and myself, The Ooz playing quietly in the background. 'Biscuit Town's' innoxious tone left her unfazed, only for Marshall's threatening yelp on 'The Locomotive' to send her reaching for the next button. Then came 'Dum Surfer,' a shape-shifting knot she thoroughly enjoyed.

It's this last track that has stayed with me through all the ups and downs of Ooz. While there's more consistent songs, including the dreary jingle bells of the ensuing 'Slush Puppy,' nothing encapsulates the mystery more than 'Dum Surfer.' It's one thing to create a moody atmosphere using cheesy, pitch-shifted vocals. It's another to create a phenomenal modern equivalent of 'Monster Mash.' 'Dum Surfer' incentives risk, succeeding not because it incorporates a litany of goofy Halloween elements, but that it conjures a magnificently-arranged Art Rock song around it. The bustling percussion, sublime riffs, hysterical horn improvisation, and most of all, Marshall's rough and rugged charisma, coalesce into one of 2017's most ingenious moments. The four-minute package aims to distill The Ooz's ambition into something conveniently bite-sized. Truth be told, the sprawling manor of The Ooz works both as a unheralded success and crippling setback. I could say, with conviction, that half a dozen songs, including everything following 'Half Man Half Shark' excluding the title track, could've hit the cutting room floor. At the same time though, The Ooz's mystifying magnetism would've diminished in the process. The fact of the matter is, King Krule's sophomore return is an art piece best left to experience, not understand. You know, like Twin Peaks.

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