Sitting down to listen to the new Khruangbin album, I find myself in an almost perfect setting. No, it isn’t this Saturday afternoon at Glastonbury, lying semi-comfortably with a pint of cider – I wish – rather I’m at home on a sunny, care-free and locked-down afternoon. To be honest I could have been anywhere, as I’m once again transported by Khruangbin to some bohemian idyll as soon as I don my headphones.
That new album is titled Mordechai, thus named after a friend-of-a-friend that bassist Laura Lee met during a time of disenchantment and turbulence. As the story goes, Lee was invited by Mordechai on a walk with his family where she experienced a baptismal moment, jumping into a rock pool. The experience brought home a reminder of family and home that was maybe missing for years of constant touring, and has given Lee and Khruangbin a shot in the arm.
Mordechai, follows on from the sun-kissed and beaming EP, Texas Sun, released with Leon Bridges. Texas Sun marked a slight departure from Khraungbin’s style with the easy introduction of vocals throughout, in contrast to two previous mainly instrumental albums. And Mordechai follows this trend, with vocals now permeating most tracks.
The world music of Pakistan and West Africa are still at the core of Khruangbin’s musical reference. The prominent bass, reverb-wah and riffy psychedelic funk sound is still very familiarly Khruangbin. There is a new, more noticeable energy on Mordechai though, probably due to the inclusion of vocals on most tracks, whether that presents in the traditional verse-chorus format, or sometimes as background chanting, call-outs and spoken word.
I always felt the tracks featuring vocals on previous albums, had more draw and stuck with you longer. This is evident on the new record in the hooks of the vocals on “Time (You and I)”, reminiscent of 70’s disco, and the latin-soaked and infectious “Pelota”. Both are surprising singles from a band that don’t really do singles. That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the instrumental tracks, but the mixture of meandering instrumental songs and funky tracks just feels more equal here.
With such rich instrumentalism and with vocals in a supporting role, it can be easy to overlook the substance of the lyrics, but in “Time (You and I)”, “Dear Alfred”, “So We Won’t Forget” and “Connaissais De Face”, Khruangbin explore the passing and presentness of time, of memory and of hope. These references run deep throughout the album and are no doubt entwined with Lee’s recent experiences with the record’s name-sake.
Khruangbin are an acquired taste to some, and I think Mordechai is more appetising than their previous albums. If you’ve not listened or got into Khruangbin before, I’d recommend giving it a go, when the weather and the vibe is right.