Hey, King! are a duo featuring musical and romantic duo Natalie London and Taylor Plecity. London is the songwriter, lead vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, while Plecity handles percussion and additional vocals. Their debut album features 11 songs and tends towards straight-ahead rock with varying degrees of emotional intensity. There’s a lot to like here, but the songs on their self-titled debut album work best when London cranks that intensity.
Case in point, the song “Sorry” was the track that really grabbed my attention the first time through. It’s down at eight in the tracklisting, but it made me sit up and listen right away. It opens with a simple acoustic guitar riff and quiet hi-hat accompaniment. London sings about accidentally waking up her partner (are all of these songs specifically about Plecity? I am certainly not going to make that claim). “You were tossing turning all night / Fighting with your demons / My body just got in the way” is a hell of a line, and it comes quite early in the song. London also gets to the refrain quickly, at the 30-second mark. That sets up the excellent hook right away, with “Stop saying sorry, please / Do I need to tattoo across my forearms / ‘Jesus Christ, love, I’m on your team.'” In particular, London’s vocals on this song sell the emotion, and that investment helps make the song soar.
The music stays quiet and restrained through this first refrain and then opens up as it finishes, with pounding drums, violin, trumpet, and booming timpani accents coming in. Plecity also comes in with a second vocal part that shifts between complementing and harmonizing London. From here, the song flows and ebbs, getting quiet again in the bridge, growing to a climax, and then fading back to the acoustic guitar line to finish it out. It’s an extremely well-arranged song, and producer Ben Harper deserves some plaudits for pushing the dynamics as far as they can go without making “Sorry” seem overblown.
Harper’s production on the rest of the album is excellent. Hey, King! try out a few different things, and Harper makes sure it all sounds crisp and clean, regardless of whether the band is rocking out or being delicate. There are also plenty of unusual instrumentation choices here that fill out Hey, King!’s sound, and Harper and mixer Sheldon Gomberg balance them all very well.
Album opener “Beautiful” is another big rocker that starts quietly. This one takes a full 75 seconds to get to the chorus, with lyrics involving anxiety and being more comfortable in the arms of a partner. The harmonies and arrangement are solid here, but only the bridge reaches the key vocal intensity level that pushes the song between its relatively straightforward rock songwriting. “Get Up” has a clever body percussion intro that quickly the rhythm to a drumbeat. It’s also got a catchy guitar riff that is essentially backgrounded to the vocals, which are a fairly pedestrian positive “We make a great team” love song. But it’s also got a strong melodic bassline which helps keep the song upbeat and fun even as its subject is a bit rote.
“Lucky” begins with a slinky, dark groove that makes it seem like it’s going to be a minor key rocker. But at the 90-second mark, the song drops the groove and completely shifts into an almost orchestral feel, with percussion hits being joined by strings and brass playing long, drawn-out notes. It shifts again into a vocal and acoustic guitar feature for London and then adds Plecity’s singing, piano, and bowed string bass. It’s an exciting song that grows more interesting with familiarity. “Road Rage”, on the other hand, begins as a thumping, blues-rock jam and stays that way. London complains about a person harassing her and her frustration at not being left alone. The refrain, “I got road rage / When I’m walking / I got road rage / When I’m walking home,” sums up the song pretty well. This is one that starts simple and stays that way.
Some of the softer songs on Hey, King! go off in interesting directions. “Half Alive” features a tender minor-key acoustic guitar and a chanted mantra from London, describing an uncomfortable night trying to sleep. Even when the verses start, Plecity keeps the chant going in the background. Eventually, the song broadens out to include trumpet, piano, prominent bass, and half-shouted vocals from London, but it never completely leaves the opening chant behind.
“Don’t Let Me Get Away” is a traditional acoustic folk-pop song, driven by simple but catchy guitar chords and a powerful vocal. “Sing Me to Sleep” is a piano ballad that emphasizes lovely vocal harmonies and adds trumpet, trombone, and ukulele to the back half to fill out the arrangement. And “Morning” is a fascinating, sad song with prominent piano and cello about letting an ex sleepover because the protagonist is so desperate for human contact they make a decision they are fully aware is a bad one.
While “Sorry” stood out instantly, the other songs on the record revealed themselves more with time. There’s a lot to appreciate in London’s lyrics, the duo‘s harmonies, and the sometimes-subtle details of their arrangements. What at first feels like a pretty typical 21st century rock album turns out to have a lot more on its mind. Hey, King! is definitely worth spending some time with.