Khruangbin’s - which is pronounced “krungbin” and means “flying engine” in Thai -third album, Mordechai (26 June, 2020; Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories) contains some great chill out grooves and comes with an entirely new element to their previous offerings – vocals.
In fact guitarist Mark Speer’s, bassist Laura Lee Ochoa and drummer Donald Johnson all take turns to step up to the mic and sing. This adds enormously to the variety in their songs, though the lyrics themselves are often on the light side.
However, it is the vast range of genres (funk, soul, psychedelic, folk, dub) and international influences that again grabs the attention, as the Houston-based trio move effortlessly between Thai, West African, Latin and Western styles. But it is Speer’s beautiful meandering guitar melodies on his Fender Strat, which often recalls The Smith’s Johnny Marr, that often stands out. It is a formula that has seen them share stages with big names such as Peter Frampton and Father John Misty, and play Glastonbury, along with arenas around the world.
Interestingly the band have also decided to release an ‘official playlist generator’ along with their album in an apparent attempt to boost interest in world music. The webpage AirKhruang allows fans to specify key variables and then be sent a custom-generated mix via the major streaming services.
Opener First Class is a lovely track that recalls Thievery Corporation or Roy Ayers and is sure to be heard as the backdrop to countless dinner parties, when they are allowed to resume. It is a gorgeous chill out track that crosses several genres and feels somehow timeless.
Many will disagree, but this critic found the lead single Time (You and I) wrecked by a lyric that is overly-repeated. Johnson’s drums are breezy and Speer’s guitar wahs, but nothing can be done to help Lee Ochoa out with what she’s been given to sing.
However the next track Connaissais de Face features a catchy bassline and tells the story of a couple flirting as they talk about past acquaintances, while holding out the promise for more. “Shouldn’t we enjoy life?” provocatively ventures one. The Latin-infused single Pelota is another standout track, which in this case has lyrics sung in Spanish. Lee Ochoa’s voice here perfectly melds with a funky groove to produce an infectiously catchy song.
The laid-back jazz-oriented One to Remember sees Speer again on fine form, while Dearest Alfred apparently relates to Lee Ochoa’s grandfather’s expression of love for his twin brother: “Can you imagine my joy, I received your wonderful letter” she sings.
The single So We Won’t Forget is a light pop song that has a video referring to loss - and has obviously left many fans very moved; while the guitar-driven closer Shida has a great groove and another outstanding melody.
Mordechai contains an eclectic and rich range of musical influences that is sure to broaden the band’s fanbase. The vocals in particular are a welcome addition to their sound; this is a band with their star on the rise.