King Krule, the stage name of 19-year-old South Londoner Archy Marshall, makes music that can be both intensely rough and appealingly tender, sometimes in the same song. Most of his records convey sadness or a deep sense of loneliness. Although he often addresses them to an unnamed girl, it’s usually clear that she was a missed opportunity. “Girl, I could’ve been someone,” he laments on “Baby Blue,” while the chorus of “The Noose of Jah City” involves whisperings about “a loss of faith” that “eats away at your brain.”
Although he’s released songs titled “Lead Existence,” “Portrait in Black and Blue,” and “Bathed in Grey,” Marshall manages not to be quite as depressing as I’ve made him sound. While he is almost never funny on record, he presents himself with a vaguely whimsical edge on stage. It is impossible to write about him without mentioning his physical appearance: small, thin, and pale, with a Tintin-esque bit of red hair which is incongruous with his astonishingly deep voice. But what stood out most during his performance at the Bowery Ballroom on Monday night was the cavernous brown blazer he was wearing, which looked enormous in spite of the fact that he had rolled up its sleeves. It made him appear older and skinnier than he might have otherwise, but combined with his cheerful banter, it took the edge off of his gloomy lyrics.
He performed seven songs off his new album, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” although five of the new tracks have been circulating in different versions for about three years. They were initially released in 2010, when Marshall was barely pushing 16, but two of them—“Out Getting Ribs” and “Baby Blue”—are some of the highlights of the new record, which is either a testament to how good Marshall was at 16, a sign of creative stagnation, or both. His new single, “Easy Easy,” got a surprisingly huge response from the crowd, which seemed hesitant to sing along for most of the night. Perhaps they doubted themselves because Marshall’s accent is so thick that, for an American, his lyrics can take quite a bit of deciphering.
Sadly, he left out the best of his new material, including the pretty, off-kilter “Bathed in Grey” and “You Took Your Time,” a collaboration with the British electronic duo Mount Kimbie. “You Took Your Time” is a stunning vocal performance, alternately menacing and gentle. Over a bed of gently buzzing synthesizers, Marshall raps, sings, and finally groans, contorting his voice into a snarl. It is darker than anything in Mount Kimbie’s catalog, sleeker than anything in King Krule’s, and is one of the best songs of the year. It would have made for a great encore, but Marshall instead followed up “Easy Easy” with “Rock Bottom,” and then slouched off stage for good.