Josh Clark discusses the sound and style of King Krule and Cosmo Pyke.
It’s hard to consistently refer to these two musicians using any specific tag. Singer-songwriter feels appropriate until either one of them starts rapping. What they share more closely than anything as artists, however, is a refusal to be boxed in, and a creative process that pulls in so many different directions. The results, though varied, demonstrate a profound awareness of their sound, and an inimitable sense of style.
Although the terms singer-songwriter calls to mind all sorts of people from X-factor finalists to successful mainstream artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele, King Krule and Cosmo Pyke, though they might be described as such, are artists who consistently diversify their craft. Whether we look to King Krule’s open admission of a love for visual art, and his disorienting and fascinating self-directed music videos, or to Cosmo comparing his music to his graffiti in an interview with Harriet Gibsone for the Guardian (he also likes painting), music evidently does not consume their artistic endeavours.
Cosmo Pyke has managed to create a lot of buzz in the alternative music scene, a remarkably impressive feat when you consider his discography of only one EP. As the title suggests, the 2017 debut, Just Cosmo, introduced the world to a then-19-year-old from Peckham with an unmistakable look and a warmly nostalgic, yet refreshing sound. To take the project in its entirety, Just Cosmo weaves an intimately personal narrative that enjoys domestic and banal scenes as much as emotional frankness. ‘Social Sites’ is a song which captures this mood nicely: “I’m sitting alone, sipping a latte/ With heartache every single time I wake up.”
Even when you think you have him figured, Cosmo’s crooning invites us into a hazy world punctuated with what feel like spoken-word poems. This is received as a welcome juncture in any song as Cosmo raps effortlessly and reveals another layer to his introspective character. His rap at the end of ‘Great Dane’ is unapologetically angry: “Think about you with another man it sickens me/ And I’m sure that you haven’t/ Even if you have, then I’m sure that I’d have him/I said I’m sure that I’d smack him”. Although his aesthetic is steeped in nostalgia, he is full of youthful energy; Cosmo seems equally capable of looking backwards and forwards with his music. Winding guitars switch rhythms frequently and show he is completely comfortable with shifting between the gears on his songs, and with doing the unexpected. As such, the sonically ambitious individual doesn’t shy away from incorporating samples from “Just William” by Richmal Crompton read by Kenneth Williams.
Visually, Cosmo also embraces an idiosyncratic style, modelling for Goodhood as he revealed on Instagram. In the shoot he recently did for them, he seems to perform a pliable masculinity which is all at once boyish, girlish, playful, and essentially Cosmo-ish. In the music video for ‘Great Dane’ his bold colour combinations cement an image of him and of his style in your mind. When you watch the music videos and put a face to a voice, you notice that the music and the clothes seem to come as a package; he doesn’t put up any kind of facade, and in between recording the music he really does just go to the shops, and skate around in Peckham.
Archy Marshall, known as King Krule among many other monikers, incidentally also grew up at least partially in Peckham, and he might be more difficult to pin down conceptually as a musician. Whereas I could quite comfortably refer to Cosmo Pyke’s music as indie, or alternative if I wanted to be vague, you can approach King Krule from endlessly different angles. The world of his music often doesn’t seem real, and yet still contains remnants of a painful personal reality. He paints a picture of a drunken, gambling mother and a difficult life at home on ‘Logos’ from his most recent album The Ooz (2016), yet tears this realism from underneath you elsewhere on the album: “Can’t even look her in the eye/ Where tiny men have been absorbed/ For questioning the sky”. His music videos reflect this too; bizarre and intriguing scenes in ‘Czech One’ transform the everyday into the surreal, and reveal a filmically and musically conscious artist.
What is fascinating to me about King Krule is how perfectly aware he is of every part of his craft. During an interview with Giles Peterson, he talks specifically about the banal events he narrates in ‘Logos’: “…whilst these events are happening, I’m constantly being drawn back into the landscape of my memory, and my experience, and my emotions.” In an interview for High Times, he also professes how acutely aware he is of the personality he performs in his music: “I like the theatre of it…the theatre of being a songwriter and a singer, and creating a character.
Still a young man of 24, Archy Marshall seems to have a deep and mature awareness of his art. Nevertheless, he writes music like he’s running out of time. This is not to say that his songs feel rushed, rather they run alongside an urgent youthful energy. This becomes clear, for example, on ‘Ceiling’ from 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (2013): “I endure stroking my head on the cranes/ Well now they alone are all just one in the same/ Demean and try to walk about”. King Krule is a musician but it seems like he’d like to call himself a poet – I would too.
Above all, it can be said with some certainty King Krule crafts a textured musical landscape. His rough chord sequences combine with a voice which changes throughout the shifting albums. He shouts, he slurs his words, and he performs his music with an unparalleled sense of art for art’s sake – experimental at all costs.
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