How many groups arrive fully-formed, with a sound that belongs entirely to them and nobody else? It’s a rare thing. And that’s what made KING, the Los Angeles R&B trio, so special when they self-released The Story, their three-song debut EP, in 2011. There was certainly something retro about the EP; it drew from the languid, blissful soul music of the ’70s and ’80s. But KING also brought a digital haze with them. Like the chillwave that was sweeping through indie rock at the time, they used technology to unmoor themselves from any sense of physical reality. The Story got endorsements from neo-soul veterans like Erykah Badu and ?uestove, who must’ve seen them as fellow travelers, and Prince invited them to open up an LA show for them. After that, they recorded the odd collaboration here and there, and they toured. Mostly, though, they disappeared. They went five years with only three songs to their name. And that whole time, as we can hear now, they were working.
As fully-formed as that EP might’ve been, We Are KING, the trio’s full-length debut, takes its ideas and pushes them even further. KING were glorious anomalies when they first showed up, and they now seem completely lost in time and space. Their music hits like a drug, with melting harmonies and digital basslines and vaporous smears of melody coming at you from all angles. Listening to them is like being smothered by a silk pillow with a luxuriously high thread count. Their music is thick and full and luscious. There’s no empty space anywhere in it, which means it’s different enough from most contemporary R&B that it might as well come from a completely different planet. This is music about love and languor and contentment, and it’s hard to imagine a better soundtrack for spending a sunny afternoon rolling around on a sunny living-room floor with someone you adore.
We Are KING includes extended, extra-zoned-out versions of the three songs from that first EP. When they show up, if you’ve spent enough time with that EP, they sound like old friends. But We Are KING isn’t an album of songs. Instead, it’s an extended-vibe sort of thing. The songs don’t seem to have concrete beginnings and endings. Instead, everything melts into everything else. This is a version of R&B that comes from jazz, rather than pop or gospel. The voices sing euphoric riffs and lose themselves intertwining in one another, and euphoric bursts of saxophone or keyboard will bubble up out of nowhere. Someone who knows more about soul music than me could tell you more about its influences, but I hear Minnie Riperton in full ecstatic-sprawl mode, as well as Prince at his squelchiest. But it also functions as a sort of ambient music, a cloud of sound that can make any room that much more pleasant. It’s a rare thing: An album that never makes any sort of immediate pop concessions but still sounds perfectly welcoming. You can hear their smiles when they’re singing. When was the last time you heard that on any album, in any genre?
And if the music feels aqueous and formless, that’s clearly the intent. Paris Strother, the group’s producer, played just about every instrument on We Are KING. Anita Bias, who handles the vocals alongside Paris’ twin sister Amber, studied at Berklee College Of Music. These women clearly know what they’re doing. They spent years working on this album carefully, whittling away at it until it had exactly the sound they wanted. And that was time well-spent. Nobody else sounds like this.
We Are KING is out now on the group’s own KING Creative label. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Rihanna’s brash, bawdy, multi-faceted, long-awaited ANTI.
• DIIV’s spangled-guitar marathon Is The Is Are.
• Nap Eyes’ oblique, insular, Kiwi-pop-esque indie rocker Thought Rock Fish Scale.
• Lucinda Williams’ sprawling roots-rock double album The Ghosts Of Highway 20.
• Junior Boys’ twinkly dance-pop comeback Big Black Coat.
• Porches.’ neo-chill-waver Pool.
• Majid Jordan’s silky, slick self-titled debut.
• Elton John’s reliably hammy Wonderful Night.
• Field Music’s twitchy new-waver Commontime.
• Two Inch Astronaut’s nervy DIY bugout Personal Life.
• High Highs’ layered, dreamy Cascades.
• Beacon’s woozy computer-music exercise Escapements.
• Former Hooray For Earth frontman Noel Heroux’s self-titled debut as Mass Gothic.
• Houston rap cult hero Trae The Truth’s guest-heavy Tha Truth Pt. 2.
• Working For A Nuclear Free City’s chaotic, all-over-the-place What Do People Do All Day.
• Chimurenga Renaissance’s art-rap odyssey Girlz With Gunz.
• Mind Enterprises’ shimmering disco-pop debut Idealist.
• Matt Kivel’s fragile, acerbic folker Janus.
• Ulrika Spacek’s discordant indie rocker The Album Paranoia.
• Sunflower Bean’s hazy, distorted psych debut Human Ceremony.
• Dr. Dog’s choogling The Psychedelic Swamp.
• Shirlette Ammons’ atmospheric, harmony-heavy Language Barrier.
• Trixie Whitley’s sinister, bluesy Porta Bohemica.
• The soundtrack to the Elliott Smith documentary Heaven Adores You.
• Frameworks’ Time Spent EP.