When you make music that comes from nearly everywhere, having a sense of place, it seems, is even more important.
Khruangbin (Thai for plane or make up your own truth) are unlikely Texans who’ve been building global momentum around multi-hued tunes, their sound a Bacchanalian sort of funk that’s always pleasing on the soul. But to get to this inner space, they first had to go home.
Years on the road touring their first two releases – 2015’s The Universe Smiles and 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo – to ever increasing crowds left them road-weary, empty vessels. With the sort of shared bond that only months together can forge, bassist Laura Lee Ochoa, guitarist Mark Speer and drummer Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson returned to their barn recording facility in Burton, Texas and intuitively recognised that some taking stock was needed. Whilst out on a trip to a local waterfall with a new friend, Laura jumped into the pool and had an epiphany; the friend’s name was Mordechai.
Ochoa and Speer both wear voluminous OTT wigs in public, a nod to their reluctance towards the notion of becoming famous, but Mordechai isn’t going to do much to preserve their relative anonymity. This time round, back in the mix vocals have been added where there were just louche instrumentals before, a step which does little to mar a dreamy haze.
Their gift is in incorporation rather than imitation: blending essences from Pakistan, Korea, west Africa and even some Indian chanting, this is a bricolage of gentle twists, but impeccably stitched together. At no stage here though are there moments of culture grabbed like last minute party drinks in a liquor store; opener First Class is deep chilled, a psychedelically Aquarian jam, while Connaissais De Face has a little more pace but similarly isn’t bothered about having a purpose other than being so lovely, open and welcoming.
Lyrics there are, almost incantations. Laura came up with hundreds of lines after her time in the water, but don’t expect to be gaining much wisdom from them. As an example, on If There Is No Question, listener emotions won’t be overwhelmed by vibes like: ‘Hearts will/Get broken/I’ll go/With you/You’re not crazy/You’re wild/But you’re not crazy.’
This is to miss the point, however. If syllables were always meant to represent something directly we wouldn’t have the ebullient disco strut of Time (You And I) without having to stop dancing and pause for thought; the lush, stoned balladry of Dearest Alfred to groove to in the minutes before dawn; or One To Remember’s trippy dub phrasings. It’s on Pelota though, complete with its winding, insistent Latin embrace, that the real festival in our minds can begin, the rhythms from both every good time and none in particular.
You may have all the world in what you play, and it may take you around the globe ten times and back, but Mordechai is a recognition that it’s people who can still bring you to dots on a map you never realised were inside you.
Khruangbin are citizens of everywhere, as this great record is testimony to.