For my birthday last week my daughter bought me two CDs by a Texas instrumental trio called Khruangbin, which, roughly translated, is Taiwanese for aeroplane though its literal meaning is ‘engine fly’. Succinctly, their website informs that they are influenced by sixties Thai funk – not a genre of which Just Backdated could claim any prior knowledge – and are “steeped in the bass heavy, psychedelic sound of their inspiration, Tarantino soundtracks and surf-rock cool”, which is not a bad way of describing a guitar-led, minimalist chill-out sound that to my mind has more influences than they are letting on.
The Universe Smiles Upon You
Though I was hearing Khruangbin for the first time there was something strangely familiar about their music, firstly a sort of Shadows-Ventures-Dick Dale friendliness, memories of ‘Apache’, ‘Walk Don’t Run’ and ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’, that I used to listen to before The Beatles swept all that asunder by singing at the same time as playing their guitars. Secondly, there was a hint of the more leisurely borders of Motown, Marvin on What’s Going On and James Jamerson’s languid bass. Khruangbin, however, place less emphasis on the melody so beloved of sixties instrumental groups or Holland-Dozier-Holland, and more on the mood, the atmosphere, which is graceful and thoughtful, and often awash in echo. In some ways their songs belong amongst the tracks selected for those Café Del Mar chill-out CDs that I discovered on a beach in France in the 1990s, but while the CDM compilations occasionally dissolved into blandness bordering on twee, Khruangbin, though similarly relaxed, are never insipid.
Con Todo El Mundo
Although the two recordings, The Universe Smiles On You and Con Todo El Mundo, were released three years apart, in 2015 and 2018 respectively, there is little discernible difference between them, and while adjectives like spacey, ambient and ethereal come to mind, there is more to Khruangbin than simple new-age or, heaven forbid, easy listening wallpaper music. Mark Speer’s spidery, probing guitar is far from repetitive, Laura Lee’s bass winds its way in and out of the loosely defined melodies, often setting the tempo, and Donald Johnson’s drum patterns are less rhythmic than passing accompaniment. The guitar, in fact, reminds me a bit of the sound that Ry Cooder got on his Mambo Sinuendo album, recorded in 2003 with the Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban. It is decidedly un-British, too, even if the occasional chanted vocal is sung in the English language.
The other overriding factor I like about this music is that it’s perfect for the time of year. Last weekend we were able to eat outside, and Khruangbin, playing softly in the background, was perfect late-night accompaniment to chicken and chorizo kebabs washed down with a glass or three of red. Thanks Olivia.