It’s hard not to be taken aback the first time you hear Archy Marshall’s voice. The 21-year-old British musician, who first made waves as Zoo Kid, has the kind of singular timber that can birth a career. Which it has — after the glowing critical reception of “Out Getting Ribs,” he released a handful of EPs as King Krule, several of which were compiled in an LP titled 6 Feet Beneath the Moon.
But while the Zoo Kid/King Krule material showed shades of Billy Bragg with its solo electric balladeer stylings, Marshall would quickly prove that his artistic interests were a bit more varied. He DJ’d and produced music under the names DJ JD Sports and Edgar the Beatmaker, and collaborated with his Sub Luna City collective on City Rivims MK 1. Which is why A New Place 2 Drown, his new multimedia art project with his brother Jack, is both a change of pace from King Krule as well as a logical next step in his career. The project consists of a 208-page art book (Topsafe London) featuring drawings, collage, photos, and poems, a 10-minute documentary by Will Robson-Scott, and an accompanying 12-song, 37-minute “soundtrack” album.
Archy’s photography is hit-or-miss; there are some well-composed, even poignant moments, but overall the book could have been well-served by a healthy edit. Its strong suit is Jack’s drawings and collage, which might inspire generous comparisons to Jasper Johns’ pencil work, or Jean-Michel Basquiat’s drawings and paintings. Baquiat is an admitted influence; “Out Getting Ribs,” recorded when Marshall was just 16 years old, is itself a nod to a Basquiat work.
The book, the documentary, and the accompanying soundtrack drop this Friday. It makes sense that the music part of the project is billed under Marshall’s government name, rather than sounds like an amalgamation of all of his projects… there’s a bit of the strung out ballads of Zoo Kid/King Krule, some of the glitchy noise rap of DJ JD Sports, the jazz-infused boom-bap beats from his work as Edgar the Beatmaker, and the trippier elements of Sub Luna City. There’s significantly less of Marshall’s signature croon, so you’ll have to wait for the return of King Krule to get your fix. And because Marshall debuted in 2010, it can be easy to forget he’s barely in his 20s, with evolving tastes and influences. Here on A New Place 2 Drown, we get a much clearer look at what he’s vibing with these days. It should be interesting to see how all of his different projects inform each other moving forward; will King Krule remain in electric balladeer mode, compartmentalizing his varied influences within their separate projects? What will future Archy Marshall records sound like?
If nothing else, leveraging a deal to make art with your brother sounds like a great way to use one’s stature in the music industry. But regardless of Marshall’s motivations, the choice to simultaneously release a film, album, and art book is indicative of a shift in the way that we value recorded music. Very few artists can afford to make a living solely from their recordings, and they’re typically legacy acts that are still playing to their same aging fanbase. What’s a recording artist to do?
Back in 2008, Radiohead famously proved that you could still make money even if you gave away mp3s; ever since, artists have been looking for alternative ways to convert the fervor of their fanbases into cash. Canadian songsmith The Weeknd gave away his first three mixtapes, but when he released a deluxe package of all three, it went platinum. Run The Jewels — realizing their fans were gonna steal their shit anyway — give away their albums for free, instead monetizing their wildly successful tours and a growing merch operation. A huge part of the Run The Jewels’ visual aesthetic has been defined by the artwork of Nick Gazin; most RTJ merch is emblazoned with his drawings. These types of successes are only possible with a rabid fanbase, but it’s interesting to see artists listening to what their fans want, delivering, and profiting from it.
A New Place 2 Drown doesn’t seem like a cash grab, or even like it’s designed to be palatable for a large audience. What it is is an earnest collaboration between two young artists who are smart enough not to limit themselves to any one medium. It’s the next chapter in what will hopefully be a long and storied career for the slight kid with the huge voice. And maybe it’s another blueprint for how independent musicians can make a living from their art.