DEAD OCEANS/NIGHT TIME STORIES LTD
Somewhere between their 2014 EP The Infamous Bill and their first LP, The Universe Smiles Upon You from the following year, I got an assignment from a magazine to interview a primarily instrumental trio from Houston called Khruangbin that played what they called “that funk.” Their membership was Black and white and male and female, and they utilized dub, R&B, surf rock (California style, as well as East Asian), musique concrète, electronic music, African music, and psychedelia as part of their gritty garage-funk vibe.
The interview is lost to the machinations of the internet, but after seeing them live, the trio’s tremulous tones, open air arrangements, and gully-dug grooves—to say nothing of an overall atmosphere of chaos and cool—stayed with me. No matter what Khruangbin did, I would stay entranced, as Mark Speer’s complicated punkish guitar work atop bassist Laura Lee Ochoa and drummer Donald Johnson dug deep and stayed there. Even their reach into mainstream (albeit cranky) R&B with fellow Houstonite vocalist Leon Bridges on Texan Soul from earlier this year proved titillating.
What makes Mordechai, the trio’s third full length different from the pack is that it sticks to piledriving and fluid rhythms while stoking their flames of melody like never before. Maybe this is what Bridges left them from their recent recording—the contagion of funky pop soul—but suddenly Khruangbin’s got some syrupy symmetry and bubblegum melodicism to go with their worldly snap.
Ochoa’s added role as a vocalist is questionable. She’s superfluous on the swamp-funk of “Time (You and I),” but gorgeous while crooning in Spanish on “Pelota” and handsomely harmonic during “So We Won’t Forget” and “One to Remember,” playing counterpoint to Speer’s intriguing guitar work and his windmills of cosmopolitan soulful melody. For those concentrating on his guitar, the album’s end track “Shida” is as spooky and breezy as it is intricate—a hot wind across an icy surface.
If you’re a long time Khruangbin fan, you’ll be engrossed by the vexing variations on a theme. If you’re new to the Khruangbin game, you’ve entered at an intriguing interlude. Stay a while. It’s nice.