On the third Khruangbin album proper, the Texan trio’s incorporation of prominent vocal textures articulates rather than intimates, making for a triumph of globe-trotting songcraft.
Over the last seven years, Houston’s purveyors of dubby, downtempo Mediterranean funk, Khruangbin, have built a considerable following that’s enabled them to tour almost constantly. Initially breaking through in the UK via their inclusion on Bonobo’s Late Night Tales mix album, Mark Speer, Laura Lee Ochoa and Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson have become festival perennials, racked up 3.9 million monthly listens on Spotify, sold out Shepherds Bush and Brixton Academy, supported Massive Attack and Father John Misty and collaborated with Leon Bridges, all through the power of word of mouth and without the ballast of a hyperactive industry hype machine.
Their long-form follow-up to 2018’s sleeper hit, Con Todo El Mundo, is the sun-dazed Mordechai, a smoky, reverb-kissed record that sprinkles more vocal stardust on their dollar-bin crate-digging and sunset psychedelia, nudging their sound into fresh and invigorating directions.
Khruangbin’s sleekly distinctive, roaming sound is built from Ochoa’s rumbling basslines, Johnson’s syncopated backbeats and Speer’s Middle Eastern-slanted guitar lines; vocals usually perform the role of spectral echoes, incantations and mantras which tend to limit their compositional substance. By contrast, on Mordechai, only one song is purely instrumental and half of the tracklisting employs full-blown verses and choruses.
The new-found candour and renewed emphasis on voices find their apogee on the infectious, glitterball rush of a single, Time (You and I): forged in the succulent glow of a cosmic disco break and bouncing around Ochoa’s sultry purr: “That’s right/If we had more time/We could live forever/Just you and I”, it’s the most extrovert and muscular creation on Mordechai, a missive that’s predominantly content to shoot the breeze on a bed of tender, meditative, South East Asian-inspired soundscapes.
Opener, First Class, makes for a suitably dreamy and airy prologue, as the band -whose name means ‘aeroplane’ in Thai – grab their bags at the airport and ruminate on the experience of first-class flight over lolloping, hip-hop-flavoured drums, ghostly choruses and nimble, reverb-laced guitars. This sets the languid, swaying, Everybody Loves The Sunshine-like tone for the rest of the album.
The sun-baked Pelota, sung in a surrealistic Spanish and decorated by flamenco hand-claps, is an obvious highlight, whilst Connaissais de Face unfurls like a lost track from Serge Gainsbourg’s epic Histoire De Melody Nelson, an emission of nervous anticipatory tension. Speer’s exotic guitar elevates the cosmopolitan groove beyond the limitations of superior chill-out mood music, veering from clean, simple lines to Dick Dale-like surf-rock , meandering jazz and spidery arpeggios.
The influence of disco rears its head again on the jaunty, African-infused So We Won’t Forget, a poolside lament for the memory of love. On the closing Shida, the band lulls the listener back into cruise control with cascading guitar melodies and DJ’s smoky fatback groove.
On Mordechai, Khruangbin provide an exotic, alluring and vibrant escape from the debilitating concerns of the world; their greater assimilation of songcraft imbues their frayed, ambient funk with some personality and swagger.