High summer is upon us so let’s change the dark side for the light side with Khruangbin’s third. Oh, while we’re at it, take off those trousers, put on some shorts and look for a place in the sun. Done? Now, soak this one up.
Radio, TV and magazines were once key to discover new music in the 90s. Heck, when growing up back then I regularly visited record stores to spin the newest releases on the spot. Distribution wise the business model of the music industry has completely turned since then. You could say many of us are now slaves to the algorithms of streaming services. Although here at SftDS we try to ignore the modern times, every once in a while the algorithm gets it right. Khruangbin is one of those examples. Since 2018 Deezer kept pushing their sophomore record Con Todo el Mundo into our personalized playlists and as you might expect, we kept ignoring it. We however never pressed the reject button because Khruangbin’s easy going vibe always found a place somewhere. In this manner we unawarely kept listening to Khruangbin for two years until the penny dropped.
Texan outfit Khruangbin (Thai for airplane) is probably one of the most popular festival bands out there. The band is known for an unique craft and melts together Thai rock/funk, surf, psych, African and middle eastern sounds into one logical sounding instrumental groove. Khruangbin gained momentum after one of those grooves was included in Bonobo’s 2013 LateNightTales mix and saw their star rising from that moment on. Since the 2020 festival summer is canceled Mark Speer (guitar), Laura Lee (bass) and Donald Johnson (drums) had no other choice but to feed the algorithm with 10 new tracks that are bundled on their third full album.
Mordechai is named after a friend-of-a-friend that Laura Lee met some time ago and with whom she experienced a so-called “baptismal moment” after spontaneously jumping into a rock pool during a summer hike. As the story goes it reminded her of missing her home after years of constant touring. This feeling became the creative spark for the album which differs from Con Todo el Mundo but does follow up on the EP Texas Sun which was released earlier this year with Leon Bridges. As said Khruangbin is known as an instrumental band but now also brings vocals to the stage on Mordechai.
Lee’s bass still is the driving force behind Khruangbin. On Mordechai her bass play is robust and adventurous. On tracks like First Class or Time (You and I) she skillfully finds her place between drums and guitar. Her efforts keep the songs from falling apart whilst Speer’s light guitar often serves as a pince in the arm. Although Lee fills the background of the opener with some vocals we truly hear her sing on Time (You and I). The song includes some sun-dappled riffs which together with Lee’s carefree singing seems like a timeless 70s disco track. It’s from this moment that Mordechai’s smoothness really comes to life.
The smoothness takes flight on Connaissais de Face which is a slow burning Caribbean-style track in which Speer’s playful guitar play moderates a seemingly secret conversation between old lovers. Then comes Father Bird, Mother Bird. This instrumental track directly reminds of Cómo Me Quieres from 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo. The track feels like a one guitar solo, but can’t do without the bass support and carefully placed drums.
Up to this point the more vocal feel seems to fit Khruangbin’s craft perfectly. So what could go wrong? Well, we have to stay that after flipping sides Lee’s singing does backfire into an overkill of sweetness. This is especially the case on If There Is No Question and So We Won’t Forget. These songs show no progression and that’s a pity if you take in account the band’s talent. Luckily the highlife heat of Pelota and the mellow dub of One To Remember set things straight. On these songs we hear Khruangbin at its best. Also closing track Shida is, despite the sudden end, a very lovable soundscape that brings Khruangbin back to their twisting Thai roots.
No let’s be honest. We still can’t shake off the two years the algorithm took to burn Con Todo El Mundo into our brain. So if we had to choose this older work still is the Khruangbin album for us. With Mordechai the band however does bring a very high standard to the table. Much of the algorithm-friendly tracks are laid-back and carefree. Without a doubt Mordechai is the go-to soundtrack for those hot summer days.
It’s safe to say that the added vocals on Mordechai bring Khruangbin to a new level. Yet, in some occasions easy listening becomes too easy and leads eventually leads to nowhere. Lee, Speer and Johnson have to be mindful not to steer Khruangbin into a dead end. Nevertheless, together with both predecessors, Mordechai is a record to keep spinning and spinning and spinning…
Label: Dead Oceans, 2020
- First Class (4:46)
- Time (You and I) (5:42)
- Connaissais de Face (4:20)
- Father Bird, Mother Bird (3:05)
- If There Is No Question (5:53)
- Pelota (2:47)
- One to Remember (4:30)
- Dearest Alfred (3:58)
- So We Won’t Forget (4:58)
- Shida (3:54)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 150720