It’s 2018, and after a little patience through the first couple weeks of January, we’ve got what I believe is the first outstanding release of the new year. On their second full length album, Texas trio Khruangbin ups their game with a slightly different instrumental focus, this time with inspiration from Middle-Eastern funk, as well as their usual psychedelic and dub influences. The result is one of the best albums I might hear all year, and one of the most astounding psychedelic soul/funk albums I’ve ever come across.
The first great attribute of this album is its seamless flow. Khruangbin deliver a beautiful landscape with their strong globetrotting soul/funk sound and transport you to the setting of their sound with immediacy. This record is mostly instrumental or features tracks with non-lyrical vocals over the span of just 10 tracks and a 42 minute run time. There’s even a track on this album that goes over the common mispronunciation of the band’s name, which in Thai means “airplane”. The band certainly takes me on an airplane to a place of tons of watery rollicking guitar rhythms, punchy bass lines and tons of mixed percussion and soothing vocals to compliment the melody. “Con Todo El Mundo” is not just great to hear because it’s so damn amazing and a true breath of fresh air in the current state of soul/funk music, a genre that has become a crucial sound in current popular music, with everyone from Bruno Mars to JAY Z, to even Childish Gambino relying doing their take on a throwback sound to late 60′s and early to mid 70′s in their latest records.
In Khruangbin, we get a band that has been on the come up for a few years or so, debuting with 2015′s “The Universe Smiles Upon You” which contained some delightfully crafted psychedelic soul that had sounds of mid to late 60′s Asian pop. Tracks like “People Everywhere (Still Alive)”, “Two Fish and an Elephant”, and “White Gloves” made up three of my favorite songs of the year out of the growing genre that included bands like Chicano Batman (who brought them on some “Freedom Is Free” tour dates). Chicano Batman’s record brought this genre to a new high when it came out at the beginning of last year, so when I heard that new music from Khruangbin, I was very excited to see what they’d have in store. And let’s just get it out of the way that while “Freedom Is Free” was one of 2017′s lesser appreciated highlights, “Con Todo El Mundo” blows it out of the water with apparent ease. This album is stacked from front to back with joyful and laid back tunes that have tons of life to them. Each of the three band members brings their best and funkiest. It’s a major improvement from their debut, and makes me believe that they’re on the verge of receiving high praise and attention from this newest project. But I would be lying if I said I was surprised that the album is so extraordinary.
The band previewed this album to listeners back in 2017 with the single “Maria Tambien”, and later in early 2018 with the single “Friday Morning”, which closes the record. The first saw the band coming into their own with what I believe to be their best track yet with its funky bass and keys, and toe-tapping beat and inspired guitar lines. The band gets mellow on the latter, in a stunning way. The swaying rhythms and psychedelic guitar is the true highlight here, but there is even more to this track in the back of the mix, with a very faint acoustic guitar and and shimmering tones. It makes me imagine being on a beach in the hot morning sun. The beat switch ups are also a nice touch, and the non-lyrical vocals that take the track out (and eventually the album), are soothing. It’s another one of Khruangbin’s best recordings to date. So it’s safe to say I was expecting more of this great chemistry at work on the full album.
I was right. This album starts off very unsuspectingly with “Como Me Quieres”, a slow burner with great playing from all three members, setting the tone for the sound of the album in the best way possible. It sounds like something that might be sampled in hip hop, especially with its minimalist but groovy beat. Tracks like “Lady and Man” and “August 10″ lock into a unquestionably killer groove, the former with sharp guitar and percussion hits to keep momentum on the similarly easy-going tempo, and the latter with some of the best percussion on the album. The bass-playing on these tracks, along with the whole album, draws comparison to that off of one of my favorite dub/trip-hop albums of all time, “The Richest Man In Babylon” by Thievery Corporation. It’s locked in with a nostalgic groove, and has a palpable swagger to it.
This record offers more than just Middle-Eastern funk bangers. Within the band’s arsenal of talents, they have perfected their craft of slow jams, especially on tracks like “Como Te Quiero” and “A Hymn”, both of which offer a haziness that no one in the psychedelic soul genre does quite as well. These two tracks are great as individual tracks, and also as album tracks, thanks to their placement in the album flow, letting the record breathe and take on multiple moods in a very smooth and uniform way. Perhaps there were more tracks than what was put in the final track-list, because every track sounds extremely complete and polished.
On the outro of a similarly laidback standout, “Shades of Man”, a faint voice explains the pronunciation of the band name before kicking into the album’s experiment in disco funk, “Evan Finds the Third Room”. This track is beyond fantastic, and the trio’s remarkable chemistry shines brightest on tracks like this one. The fun and funky tune ends with the sound of a hotline options menu. The band’s charm and personality come through a bit through this little skit-like venture, as well as the ad-libs and studio sounds all over this record that add to its intimate feel.
The album concludes with “Rules” and “Friday Morning”, which is even more enjoyable in the context of the album’s track-list. “Rules” goes straight into its following track, but not before making a final upbeat and groovy statement before “Friday Morning” closes the album on a slow dancing note.
The only concern some may have with this album is its uniformity and similar beats, but the beats don’t hurt the album in the slightest, instead lending comparisons to beats from The Meters and other classic soul/funk groups. If anything, the grooves solely make the album hard not to want to listen to all the way through, and its momentum and utter consistency in high quality make it an early favorite album of 2018. Khruangbin bring many of their best songs yet, and play with more confidence and poise on “Con Todo El Mundo” than their debut by a great margin. It’s the sure sign of a band that knew what they were capable of, and simply went out and did it with everything they had. The wait may have been a bit long, but it was certainly worth it, and I will be revisiting this album frequently for some time to come. Very proud of this band for making a timeless album that makes me know they’ll be sticking around and possibly getting loads of acclaim.
Favorite Tracks: Maria Tambien, Evan Finds the Third Room, Friday Morning, Como Me Quieres, Rules, Lady and Man, Como Te Quiero, August 10