Khruangbin have become the go to summer festival band. The perfect soundtrack to a heat filled day with their laid back guitar riffs, inoculating bass lines and hazy soundscapes. They established this feat on 2018’s sophomore album ‘Con Todo El Mundo’ which gained critical acclaim for its blend of Asian surf-rock, Persian funk and Jamaican dub. They also showcased how well their signature sound works as backing material on collaborative EP ‘Texas Sun’ which saw them team up with fellow Texas native soul singer Leon Bridges earlier in the year. And now with the release of ‘Mordechai’ it seemed Khruangbin were ready to take their crown as lords and lady of the summertime ball. And then summer got cancelled. Similarly to the summer of 2020 this album builds those expectations of excitement and feel-good moments, just to fall flat on its promises.
The band have a sound, and they know how to use it. Hazy psychedelic funk jams that are the perfect soundtrack to any of life’s more docile moments. On ‘Mordechai’ they take the risk of diversifying this sound in the way of adding vocals on almost every track, a rare occurrence in the bands sonic palette. Most of the time these may just be varying harmony layers to build up the tracks atmosphere, like on opener ‘First Class’ where the layers slowly ascend to create a blissful wall of sound which evokes the sense of flying from which the song takes its name. There’s also the funk heavy lead single ‘Time (You and I)’ which features some romantically fuelled punchy chorus lines of “That’s life, If we had more time, We could live forever, Just you and I, We could be together”. The addition of vocals don’t always add more substance to the tracks however. ‘Connaissais de Face’ features samples from what seem like a cheesy 80’s rom-com. Although the song does have a nice groove to it, the samples just seem too over the top for the song to fit in with the laid back approach throughout the rest of the album; taking you out of the moment.
The more direct moments of this album do shine through with surf-rock heavy ‘So We Won’t Forget’ brings about one of the most uplifting guitar riffs on the album and one of the best uses of their newfound vocal facility. And ‘Pelota’ which features one of the tightest grooves on the album. With hand claps a plenty and a bouncy bass line it sparks new life into the album that at this point in the track-list seems to be fading out to a hazy blur. The band also predominately sing in Spanish, which isn’t unusual for them given lead singer Laura Lee’s Mexican heritage, adding a flair of samba to their already culturally diverse sound; making it just that bit more entrancing.
The downfall of this album though comes from its inability to find its footing about what it wants to be, with more often than not the songs becoming lost within themselves as they slowly jam out to nothing. The hazy feel clouds over until it’s hard to see any structure. There’s a lot of moments that feel like the band don’t know where to take a song, and instead just allow it to float along with no real goal in sight. One of the worst offenders is the aptly titled ‘One To Remember’, which sadly doesn’t really leave that much to remember at all. The groove is loose and the guitar line seems to be wandering off in any direction it wants until they fade it out with a delay swirl. ‘Father Bird, Mother Bird’ feels like every Khruangbin song we’ve heard before boiled down to the bare minimum of having a glittery guitar line, poignant bass and soothing beats, without any of the real drive or meaning behind them. And even on songs where the flow is a bit tighter like ‘Shida’ and ‘Dearest Alfred’ the songs just aren’t memorable enough to pack that punch of previous albums.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Khruangbin with their psychedelic genre-blending grooves, and the ability to carry a song with only instrumentals whilst still keeping it interesting. But here it just feels like much of the same, but they’ve lost the map on the road trip they were supposed to be taking you on. Sitting down to choose between albums to soundtrack a summers morning, I would just go back to the vibrant heights of past albums. Perhaps without the suns heat beating down on a crowded festival tent and a half drunk overpriced pint in one hand these songs don’t capture the magic they were intended to. And for now we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if they would.