Laura Lee, Mark Speer and Donald “DJ” Johnson Jr. reside in Texas, but their inspiration is borne from the esoteric sounds of old records found in Thailand, Iran and other non-Western cultures. Khruangbin (Thai for ‘airplane’) is their brainchild, where they fuse their influences into laid-back, sometimes psychedelic, grooves that can have you mellowing out one minute and dancing the next.
We’ve heard that Khruangbin are getting ready to drop a remix album of ‘Mordechai’, their third studio album. An eclectic mix of artists are leaving their imprint on the group’s work, from lo-fi beatmaker Knxwledge to funky house producer Harvey Sutherland to psychedelic songwriter Kadjha Bonet. To get you ready for more Khruangbin, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favourite tracks that will get you well acquainted with the Texas trio.
The intro track to Khruangbin’s first album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, epitomises so much of the band’s unique sound. A slow build-up that rises into a crunchy guitar lick, then straight into a slick beat, groovy bass and evolving guitar line. The track is essentially a loop, pinned down by Laura’s bass and DJ’s drums, while Mark’s guitar leads the track down new avenues, with Laura and Mark’s vocals quietly keeping you intrigued throughout.
Khruangbin’s latest album, Mordechai, sees Khruangbin explore new territories with more vocal-led songs and refining the sound they’ve become known for. First Class sets the perfect tone for the album, then, with layered vocals atop a processed guitar line. This track could also reference being in first class on an airplane, given the name of their previous online radio station, AirKhruang. It’s now called Shelter In Space, and you can check it out here.
Ever wondered what surf-rock would sound like if it were slowed down? August 10 might be the perfect example. Sat around midway through Khruangbin’s second album, Con Todo El Mundo, this track perfectly fits the vibe of sunsets by the sea or the pool. Interestingly, August 10 follows on from August Twelve, which can be heard in the first album. Mark Speer confirmed on Reddit that August 10 is “literally us playing the song Aug 12 backwards. That's it.”
After touring together in 2018, Khruangbin and Leon Bridges teamed up for their Texas Sun EP. The title track currently stands as the most-streamed track on digital streaming services and imagines how Khruangbin would sound with a permanent lead vocalist, which probably paved the way for their third album. Bridges’ strong vocal line over Khruangbin’s loose, country-esque beat – complete with a subtle slide guitar – has us wanting to drive down to the Lone Star State with Texas Sun blaring out.
“Yes”, says a defiant Laura Lee on perhaps the funkiest beat on Con Todo El Mundo. Her bass drives Evan Finds The Third Room forward with flair, proving that a simple bassline can inject a serious groove into a track – with the right performance. Plus, the light-humoured, nonsensical lyrics make this song one that you’ll constantly find yourself going back to. In their KEXP performance, Khruangbin reveal that Evan is their tour manager, which seems to prove that Evan Finds The Third Room is just an inside joke, and we’re here for it.
People Everywhere (Still Alive)
This track just exudes happiness. Its catchy melody and upbeat nature make this one of Khruangbin’s most easy-going. There’s a story behind this one, too. The band create and record all of their music in a barn in rural Texas, right amongst flora and fauna. Some of their first devoted fans were not people, but cows. When they first started playing at the barn, there was a “very pregnant cow who [they] thought was gonna burst at any second”, Laura explains. By the time they’d gotten around to recording their second album, they had assumed the baby cow – who was aptly named Laura Lee – had passed. When they arrived, however, the farmer informed the band that Laura Lee the Cow was, in fact, still alive. The song originally went: “She’s not a burger, and she’s still alive. She’s not a jacket, and she’s still alive“. See? Totally full of inside jokes, yet again.
If you’re ever lucky enough to grab a ticket to a Khruangbin show, you might be treated to a medley of the band’s favourite hip-hop tracks. Although their music doesn’t exactly scream ‘hip-hop’, their music is generally arranged in the same way, with a loop laying down the foundation for the rest of the track. They even go as far as to sample their own music to create new ideas and passages. Even if you’re not into hip-hop, this medley is irresistibly cool.
Mark Speer said to MusicTech that he “just wanted to make a song with a disco breakdown. That’s literally all I wanted to do…I want Larry Levan to play [Time (You and I)]. I know he can’t, but that’s what I want”. Listen to the track and you won’t be disappointed. It’s not disco as you may know it – it’s got that soft Khruangbin touch that will have your head bopping and shoulders dipping in no time. Laura Lee takes centre stage once again for some vocals on this one, repeating “That’s life“ throughout, only to continue it in multiple languages at the end of the song.
So, Laura Lee the Cow features in more than just one song. A Calf Born In Winter, the title of their first EP and of this track, is named after the farm animal. This was the song that put Khruangbin on the map. After touring with Bonobo in another band, Laura Lee and Mark Speer were adored by the British producer, who included this track on his Late Night Tales compilation, saying in an email that “the analogue timbres and subtleties of the melodies were incredible“. We agree, Bonobo. We agree.
If Khruangbin are inspired by hip-hop, it means they’re heavily influenced by soul music of the 70s by default. Friday Morning will have hip-hop heads recognising the chord progression, perhaps from J Dilla’s So Far To Go, which samples The Isley Brother’s Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time for Love) (Parts 1 & 2). Khruangbin didn’t sample the same track but, given Mark’s obsession with The Isley Brothers, this feels like a heavy influence. And it’s probably one of the more graceful, delicate tracks in the trio’s discography, being their first real love song.
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