In the opening moments of Archy Marshall’s 2010 single “Out Getting Ribs,” a cough punctures the stillness. It’s a subtle cue that the chiming, guitar-driven confessional that follows is going to be raw, unfiltered teenage angst. Or it would be if the same cough didn’t appear at the start of “Bleak Bake,” the second track on the 17-year-old’s debut EP as King Krule. Along with being blessed with an eye-catching shock of red hair and a beautiful, baritone vowel-abuser of a voice, the Londoner formerly known as Zoo Kid possesses a canniness that belies his years. With economical application of upright bass, violin stingers, and amphibious, reverberating guitar, the five-song King Krule EP locates a tantalizing Venn-diagram intersection of dub and jazz that still somehow manages to recall Billy Bragg and the bleak, baroque pop of Bill Fay.
That instrumentation keeps the record from sinking entirely underneath the dead-star weight of Marshall’s voice. When he’s not delivering perfectly teenage couplets like “Wouldn’t wake up this morning, believe me / This might be your only warning, and you’ll see,” Marshall serves up an affecting, hangdog world-weariness that shouldn’t sound so convincing from someone so young. True, there’s a sketchy, unfinished quality to some of the tracks here, and a tendency to use reverb as a crutch rather than a mood-maker. But more focused material like the single “The Noose Of Jah City” and “Portrait In Black And Blue” reveal a potentially great songsmith still in development. He has plenty of time, after all.