King are an American soul girl group who lie somewhere between demure and harmless. Twins Paris and Amber Strother and fellow soul sister Anita Bias piqued curiosity with their self-produced 2011 EP, The Story, which showed promise as well as an infatuation with dreamy instrumentals. The trio’s debut album, We Are King, is a pleasant example of downtempo and mellow soul, but its tunes soon fade into the background for feeling all-too similar.
Of course, as similar as the songs are, and acutely sound after a few listens, there’s no denying that King are royalty when it comes to downtempo soul. The Greatest is a soft, frothy scoop of 90s soul-pop, somewhere between SWV and (the softer side of) TLC, delivered so smoothly it barely disrupts the surface. Production is handled by Paris, who canny crafts warm rhythms, which unfold at a pace that almost never exceeds a casual stroll. Singers Amber and Anita, meanwhile, fill the tracks with soothing soliloquies. It’s easy to let your mind wander when the mix is at its most ethereal (Redeye, In the Meantime).
Unfortunately, though their sound is undeniably smooth, it’s so repetitive that it gradually becomes featureless. Carry On, Supernatural, Oh, Please! and Native Land are all composed of minimalist electronic beds, outros that stretch out their groove in manners drawing on Jimi Hendrix, D’Angelo and Roman GainArthur, and repeated lines delivered in same, disembodied mono-harmonic fashion.
At times, the formula is so repetitive that you half expect a voiceover to kick in telling you about the ‘unmissable cut-price mattress deals waiting for you in store today’ – such is the dreamy detachment that We Are King induces. What’s more, Amber and Anita’s reticent vocals aren’t much louder than many of the rhythms and loops here, making their presence more muted, and any significant chemistry between the two of them even more difficult to discern.
Ultimately, it’s an unadventurous debut. The sameness of the tracks does the ladies no favours. King are polite but dull, tasteful but forgettable. With more gusto, King could do for fringe soul music what TheeSatisfaction or Oshun are for contemporary hip hop. This is only the beginning for the ladies of King, but we’d like to think that there’s more to them, and their music, than the narrow sample offered by this all-too-similar debut.