Khruangbin : A La Sala

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Khruangbin A La Sala review

One of the tell-tale signs that a band has graduated to bigger things—in this case being some of the biggest indie-rock, hip-hop adjacent, global music ambassadors on the planet over the past decade—is when their next big move is to get small: Pivot back to square one. No shade, I’m just saying sometimes when you set up a band identity, that works out like you never thought it could. 

That band is Khruangbin. The Houston-based psychedelic jam trio and well-respected indie favorite comprises bassist Laura Lee Ochoa, always dressed to the nines, giving her best Robbie Shakespeare fretwork; Mark Speer on guitar strumming out spaghetti western meets flamenco-style instrumental yarns, and DJ Johnson on drums consistently hooking up this outwardly facing global funk unit with understated snare hits that would wake the bejeezus out of James Brown’s drummers (peace to John “Jabo” Starks and Clyde Stubblefield), straight out of the grave. And over the past decade, Khruangbin’s bat-signal has been crazily seen.

Besides fulfilling a vast venn diagram of fans—from tech bros to Teva-wearing hippie folk and everybody in between—Khruangbin have been embraced by so many in the music industry. The group backed Wu-Tang Clan at the Desert Daze music festival, and they’ve participated in a number of successful collaborations and live albums showcasing their stage skills, featuring notable guests such as Toro y Moi, Men I Trust, and Nubya Garcia, and likewise collaborated with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré to pay tribute to Vieux’s late father, Ali Farka Touré. And let’s not forget their 2020 country-twang release (years preceding Cowboy Carter) Texas Sun project with Leon Bridges.

The Houston power trio enjoys mixing shit up—it’s what they do best. Steel guitars, slow-rolling back beat, hints of concertina honking along in the background. This Big Sky Country view from the highway could easily play while exiting the craziness of SXSW in Austin, where art-school kids drop acid, gazing at the Kodachrome vistas en route to Fredericksburg 80 miles west. Everything stays bigger in Texas. Those sensibilities hover all over A La Sala (“To the Room” in Spanish), Khruangbin’s first LP since 2020, and their fourth studio album overall. It’s the sound of the trio returning to their original superpower: Just the three of them squeezing out soul, surf rock, psych rock, dub, funk, or whatever corner of the world’s culture they’re digging into this month.

The album’s title is a term bassist Laura Lee Ochoa used to scream around her house when she was a little girl, to get everybody in the living room; to get the family together. Put into practice by Khruangbin, that means getting back to the irresistible minimalism that struck gold for this band at the start. Early on in the band’s rise, Speer told Relix, “Music should never be just for the sake of being experimental. Before you even start, you have to know what you’re experimenting with first.” Six years later, the group most definitely has that figured out.

That stillness, creating hymn-like charts with a bit of country-twang solitude and heavyweight introspection is built into “Juegos y Nubes,” with its storyteller melody and drama-filled drum crash end of stanzas moves with that cinematic score clarity. The trio likewise makes Nigerian highlife the new uptick fastball in their arsenal. “Pon Pón” sees our daytrippers still finding and digging out new jams, pushing rock and polyrhythms in their trademark idiosyncratic way. “Hold Me Up (Thank You)” is a spiritual sequel of sorts to the former, stretching out that Nigerian blues end of the arrangement, yet still equipped with enough runway to make sure these will be music festival lighter-worthy.

And that’s OK; they haven’t compromised or made their music boring at all. Some folks try to cape up and be ambassadors for so-called “World Music” and it just feels like paint drying. Think Skip Bayless giving a Ted Talk about Pornhub: All the hot air for all the wrong reasons.

By definition, Khruangbin translates to “flying engine” or airplane in Thai, which reflects their core values: Creating a style of world music that, when put together, consists of various groove flavors that soar. Check “A Love International,” which coaxes us through smooth breezes, resembling Bobby Caldwell walk-on music, as Speer’s guitar is used as a filter of slow build, turning calm waters into romantic waves. A La Sala is not doing anything groundbreaking, but it does serve as a reminder to Khruangbin fans that this band was dope before everybody else caught on to their shtick: Making world music pop like a mixtape. Credit self-awareness as the genius move here.

Label: Dead Oceans

Year: 2024

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Khruangbin A La Sala review

Khruangbin : A La Sala

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