Khruangbin. Say it with me now. Kruang. Bin. Congratulations. You’re likely to have just said your first word in Thai. It means “engine fly” or more loosely translated “airplane,” and it’s the name of one of the most unique and interesting bands you’ve probably never heard of. The Texas-based trio of instrumentalists consists of guitarist Mark Speer, drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson and bassist/fashionista Laura Lee. The band’s name seems arbitrary at first, but after a few spins of one of the acts four albums, you realize that a musical airplane ride is precisely what you are on. Drawing from global influences such as Thai funk, Turkish and Iranian soul, Jamaican dub and of course American rock, R&B and hip hop the group conjures an almost trance-inducing sound that is remarkably fresh and pleasant.
Take the track “Dern Kala” from the 2015 debut album “the universe smiles upon you.” During the verse, Johnson’s minimalist drumming style sets a tight and focused groove that lends itself as the perfect foundation for a beautifully bouncy and jovial guitar line reminiscent of the Luuk Thung era of Thai funk. Tied in with Lee’s trotting fingered bass line the composition encapsulates the feeling of the song’s name, a game in Thailand in which children tie coconut halves to their feet and race to the finish line. Interestingly the live version of this tune has an extra lick thrown in that you may recognize from both Geto Boy’s “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” which samples Issac Hayes’s “Hung up on my baby.” In a Reddit thread where a fan points this out Mark himself chimes in to say this: “I play that exact phrase in the live version of “Dern Kala” both as a wink to our folks who grew up listening to Isaac Hayes, and as a shout-out to where we’re from (geto boys are from Houston). He’s been a huge influence on what we do.”
The Sounds Of Khruangbin
This is a perfect example of the band’s genre-spanning nature and is the kind of thoughtful depth you can expect from Khruangbin, who uses field recordings of children playing with elephants and tracks all their music live in Mark’s childhood barn. The barn seems to be an integral part of what helps to create Khruangbin’s unique sonic landscape and almost serves as a useful metaphor for the band’s deep, open and roomy grooves. During an interview by Robin Bacior (MajesticJournal) bassist Laura Lee had this to say about it: “We record in a barn in the middle of nowhere — not nowhere, it’s beautiful-where — there’s nobody around, no wifi, not much phone service, I think the music definitely sounds like the barn to me. I can’t unhear it. People don’t know where the music is, they can’t place it, and I think it’s because they haven’t been in a barn in the hill country.”
Most of Khruangbin’s music is instrumental with a heavy foundation in bass and drums. The guitar parts played by Mark are melodic and, in a natural way, seem to take on the role of a singer or vocalist but without the element of syntax, which in music can sometimes take you out of the space that you are in. The music is gentle, spacious, and unapologetically honest. There’s an innate beauty in respecting limitations the way Khruangbin does, an inerrant vastness to their minimalist approach. This is what makes them so special and also so accessible. It’s the perfect
backdrop for any situation. Whether driving, studying, having drinks, working, cleaning, or cuddling, you’ll find Khruangbin’s infectious funk to be stimulating and satisfying in all the best ways. Check out their entire catalog, including their most recent release “Mordechai” and head over to our Facebook page to let us know what you think in the comments below.
Photo via NPR