KING - We Are KING (2016)

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KING – We Are KING

Fans waited five years for a KING album. A half decade since a three-song debut EP, The Story, exploded across the Internet in ways very few black singers’ freshman music ever gets to experience, with celebratory mainstream press attention and A-list stars all singing their praises, the wait is finally over for a full-length album. With just a trio of singles (“Mister Chameleon,” “In the Meantime,” and “The Greatest”) and a couple of marquee features like the now classic “Move Love” on The Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio, all fans really want to know is one thing: is it worth the long wait? And the answer for the most part is yes.

KING – We Are KING

Fans waited five years for a KING album. A half decade since a three-song debut EP, The Story, exploded across the Internet in ways very few black singers’ freshman music ever gets to experience, with celebratory mainstream press attention and A-list stars all singing their praises, the wait is finally over for a full-length album. With just a trio of singles (“Mister Chameleon,” “In the Meantime,” and “The Greatest”) and a couple of marquee features like the now classic “Move Love” on The Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio, all fans really want to know is one thing: is it worth the long wait? And the answer for the most part is yes.

KING’s music is being self-described something akin to “dreamy soul pop,” and there is indeed a floating, ethereal quality that has become a trademark of the electrosoul sound of producer/singer/songwriter Paris Strothers, her twin sister Amber, and co-creating singer Anita Bias. Strongly contributing to what is becoming an emerging, experimental L.A. sound by artists like Alex Isley, Miguel, and The Internet, We Are KING also borrows from the synth heavy ‘80s era sounds of Minneapolis during the height of Prince and The Time. Accordingly, on cuts like “Love Song,” KING’s independently developed, released, and home studio produced sound sometimes possesses the tinny, tinkering sounds that sometimes plagued ‘80s music, while on other more sweepingly rhapsodic cuts like “Supernatural (Extended Mix)” and “Oh, Please” there is the sense of whole orchestras operating within that humble studio.

Like the before mentioned Isley, the singers could be considered the daughters of Amel Larrieux in their vocal approach and harmonic arrangements in ways that are both impressive and complementary; indeed harmony and counterpoint are the main strengths of the KING sound. Their intentionally dreamlike quality nonetheless departs from the more robust Larrieux blueprint in its lack of a bottom or strong basslines anchoring the compositions, which at times runs the risk of lacking weight and blending songs one into another in a way that credibly lends itself to charges of sameness.

That said, what the Strother sisters and Bias are able to effortlessly do is create magical atmospheres where wonder is still in play. There is a lightness of being in the best of their work that carries listeners off to peaceful slumbers, tender lovemaking, and soothing backdrops to intimate conversations. Everything about We Are KING lends itself to repeat play for bad nerves, sleepless nights, and setting the mood. In this regard, it represents the best of what classic R&B and soul music has always done and used to do with a frequency that once was barely worth mentioning, but is now a cause for celebration and eager sharing amongst friends. This is a grown folks album that those under 25 can embrace as their own just as easily, and that’s no small feat. There is no harshness or callousness here, just beauty and succulent sweetness to this electrosoul honeysuckle. It will be beloved.

Fans who have been collectors may be a bit disappointed in that more than half the album they’ll likely already own, with all three previously released singles and extended mixes of the three-song EP all finding a home here. With the standout exceptions of the utterly romantic “Red Eye” (which musically owes a debt to In A Square Circle era Stevie Wonder) and the near five-minute tour de force arrangement that is “Oh, Please” (the last two-minutes alone are pure bliss) most of the new songs feel interchangeable, be it “Love Song,” “We Are King,” “The Right One,” or “Carry On.” And some never felt like strong singles to begin with, like “The Greatest.” What they lack in distinction as solitary songs, they collectively make-up for in creating an environment and a cohesion to the project’s fantasia that makes it feel whole and complete, with minor shifts in accents, astral elements, and interjecting and evaporating instruments serving as guideposts on a signature journey.

What is unexpected, but perhaps inescapable, is that the strongest songs are the three that fans already know and have a deep relationship with from The Story. The extended mix for “Supernatural” once again stands out as a once-in-a-lifetime bit of musical perfection that this elongation only enhances. The progressive build of “Supernatural” is akin to a fireworks display reaching its glorious, sparkling pinnacle of kaleidoscopic bursts on the fourth of July. Interestingly, the florid, Janet Jackson-like opening of the Asian influenced sounds of “The Story” only further blossomed its exotic bloom with its extended mix. Meanwhile, the fine vocal on “Hey” feels re-recorded in ways that only distract if you’re overly familiar with its lighter original or the sublime Jessica Newry cover of this oft-covered KING classic.

It is safe to say that whatever minor issues there are to be had with KING - some perhaps avoided with a judicious slashing of filler material and perhaps a more clear cut effort at one or two up-tempo numbers - the album largely delivers what its fans have been clamoring for. As a left-of-center statement debut, We Are KING will certainly make it on many critics’ end-of-the-year lists for “Best Albums of 2016.” And, that’s a fine way to start a year and a career. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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