THEY weren’t an outfit that was hyped into the musical consciousness worldwide by a huge machine, fully packaged and billboarded; rather Houston’s Khruangbin have seeped into the world gradually but effortlessly via all the coolest of channels.
First breaking through in the UK on the back of their inclusion on Bonobo’s LateNightTales mix compilation, they toured and supported Father John Misty – and Massive Attack. First LP The Universe Smiles Upon You started to garner the hot new band tags; 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo and its accompanying heavy dub versions set, Hasta El Cielo, sealed the deal; their Thai-Iranian-psych melange was a must-listen. This year’s “Texas Sun” single, with vocals from sometime tour partner Leon Russell, was everywhere, and its languid sunbliss was a tequila (ear) worm.
Now their third album is arriving across the land, spilling from excitedly debouched mailers and record shop totes and into our heads. The whisper has been: it’s more vocal: what’s the story there, with our favourite instrumental band?
After Khruangbin had spent the best part of three and a half years on the road, capitalising on the thirst for their sound, they retreated back to their farmhouse studio in Burton, Texas, determined to slow down and luxuriate in building something together.
The album title? During this recess, dusting themselves down, vocalist and bassist Laura Lee Ochoa went hiking with a bare acquaintance, on which roam – as is often the case – she had an epiphany: the importance of appreciating the journey, rather than rushing headlong toward the next destination. She jumped into a waterfall, screaming her full name. Her hiking buddy’s name? Mordechai.
The creative floodgates opened and Laura crammed notebooks full of impressions and lyrical sketches.
Okay, okay, the first thing to dispel: more vocals doesn’t mean a foot-on-a-monitor frontwoman ego, gathering the spotlight. The vocals are almost always weaved in and out of the open cloth of Khruangbin 2020 like a memory; take the sizzling, sundazed dub of “One To Remember”, wherein Laura’s vocals are overheard, carried on a warm wind in among the guitars and the popping electric toms. Or opener “First Class” on which the sun is high and blinding over a dubby funk space, the vocals an almost French soundtrack honey, sweetening.
The one track on which the vocals attain anything like a foreground prominence is single “Time (You and I)”: forged in the fires of silver-foiled, space-age disco circa 1978, Laura intones the instant, staccato hook “That’s right / If we had more time / we could live forever / Just you and I” in bliss over its Nile Rogers chops and space tom booms. It’s the extrovert at Mordechai’s party.
“Pelota” brings in the Latin intervals and textures. “Father Bird” is a beautiful, peyote and dust instrumental in the classic Khruangbin lineage, the heat haze shimmering in that chiming guitar.
“Dearest Alfred” has a fogged-photograph memory haze. “Where are you now? Your letter is the best gift” Laura intones – the song inspired by a trove of letters her grandfather wrote to his twin brother.
And on “Conaissas de Face” we find her and Mark Speer engaged in a wry two-handed call and response. Interestingly, given their Texan roots, they don’t reach for Nancy and Lee, but rather the lovers’ whispers of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, a wry co-conspirators’ dialogue: “Do you remember Josephine? / She was always running / And I was always swimming.”
Once more Khruangbin have presented us with a bold, wide stylistic vision, which beckons you in rather than shouts out in a need to be loved, to be recognised. They slump against the adobe doorway, like Isabella Rosselini in Blue Velvet, smoke in their eyes. Come in.
Khruangbin’s Mordechai is available now on LP, CD and digital formats at https://khruangbin.bandcamp.com/album/mordechai