A sprawling morass of sound that seems to spread its diseased tendrils in all directions.
“I seem to sink lower,” sings Archy Marshall on “Biscuit Town,” and, with those words, we descend into the young worldbuilder’s most complete and suffocating statement yet.
The Ooz is his third album, but it feels like The One. It’s the kind of album critics have in their heads when they say an artist has “potential.” And Marshall’s been all potential for a while. His early singles, released at the improbably young age of 16, include two of the best indie rock singles of the decade: “Out Getting Ribs” and “Ocean Bed.” His first EP as King Krule was solid but slight. Yethe floundered under the guiding hand of Rodaidh McDonald on his debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, which stripped his music of its textural intricacy. It wasn’t until 2015’s low-stakes beat tape A New Place 2 Drown, made to accompany a book, that he really seemed to be getting at something.
Now here’s The Ooz, a sprawling morass of sound that seems to spread its diseased tendrils in all directions. It feels as much like an old-fashioned opus as the best beat tape ever—maybe Madvillain with a singer, or Burial played by a band. It’s the most expansive expression of the threads that’ve run in his work from the beginning: a sickly sense of urban paranoia with a sprinkling of horror-movie camp (there’s a song here called “Half Man Half Shark,” in addition to the Ninja Turtles-suggesting title and the name of the project itself). But most crucially, it’s all Marshall—seemingly undiluted.
Every song buzzes with detail. Sickly synths wheeze and croak like malignant sirens. Hip-hop drums buckle and clank like collapsing piles of trash. Marshall’s voice, even lower and more tortured than when he first shocked people when his leonine roar, feels like the omnipresent voice of God. He’s more comfortable with his vocals, and he often switches into formidable rap flows. He sounds like he’s at the end of his rope on “The Locomotive,” pronouncing lines like “I wish I was equal/ I wish I was people” with the same bitter laughter Sly Stone used to stave off the end of the world on There’s A Riot Goin’ On. He even borrows megafan Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” flow for “Logos.”
He cycles through a lot of genres here, which is one of his biggest draws. But at the end of the day, this music’s roots are in the bedroom-pop turn of the ‘10s, when indie artists found inspiration by starting with sounds and aesthetics and letting the songs blossom from there. You’ll find only frustration by approaching Marshall as a singer-songwriter. His songs are objectively a bit sloppy, often resembling stream-of-consciousness poetry more than songwriting in the conventional sense. What matters is the seasoning and how the lyrics and sounds contribute to the feeling of being lost in an urban hellscape.
The Ooz is 65 minutes long, and the biggest test of a listener’s loyalty will be how well they weather the midsection of largely formless, ruminative songs (roughly from “Slush Puppy” through “A Slide in (New Drugs)”). Some might find it boring. Others might find it a treat to get lost in and focus on all the apocryphal details: the glockenspiel on “Czech One” that ushers in the ghost of Marvin Gaye, or the phased guitar that erupts angrily from the murk of “Lonely Blue.” The Ooz is rich with detail, but its length means its ideas have enough room to spread out. It’s teeming with life, but it never feels too busy.
It’s an easy album to underestimate. In fact, Marshall himself is easy to underestimate. It’s likely he’d still be a niche concern if not for the novelty of this tiny kid singing these songs in that voice. It seems too good a gimmick to be true. But he never seems to force this music out through his personality. The cover of his first King Krule EP showed an entire skyscraper bursting from his mouth. Here, he’s puked up a whole goddamn planet. It only further encourages the image of Marshall as a conduit to a greater world that exists outside himself.