In Review: Khruangbin - Mordechai
If the fallout from recent global events has forced us to realise anything, it’s that the world is comprehensively interconnected. The result of years of the internet’s democratisation of information, opinions, and cultures, is that - particularly in terms of contemporary music - influences and genres bleed into one another. Where Reggaeton, a predominantly Latin-speaking music, is now the world’s most listened to genre, the Western mainstream vernacular has truly diversified. And Khruangbin, both purveyors and profiteers of diversification, appear to be playing their way into the mainstream consciousness with third album Mordechai.
The Texan trio, instantly recognisable due to distinct wigs (the cat is out of the bag by now, surely?) are as equally renowned for their flavourful palette of Middle-Eastern psychedelia, Latin and Thai-infused funk, and even some hip-hop influence for good measure - they’ve almost single-handedly rescued the ‘world music’ stereotype from white linen-wearing WOMAD aficionados. On Mordechai there’s absolutely no pseudo-intellectual reference to the biblical Hebrew figure of the same name, instead seeing the trio doubling-down on feel-good fare and hitching a ride on the soul train.
Album opener ‘First Class’ is familiar Khruangbin territory; Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson Jr’s crisp drum breaks embellished by guitarist Mike Speer’s wavy, saccharine lead licks that work in tandem with bassist Laura Lee’s mellow and sporadic finger-picking, a track that wouldn’t feel out of place on their first EP The Infamous Bill. It’s lead single ‘Time (You And I)’ where you really get a feel for the trio’s trajectory, however.
A street-strutting pomp of a soulful anthem, ‘Time (You And I)’ sees Laura Lee play the role of bonafide frontwoman for the first time; where vocals have often taken a backseat, overshadowed in the mix up until now, Khruangbin have fun with the newfound, urgent vocal addition to their already expansive repertoire. A hefty portion of the album’s tracks now weald dedicated verses and choruses, no longer the odd lyric, intermittently hushed here and there. “Here we go, that’s right” Lee playfully prompts before each chorus, embracing the new responsibility, wilfully.
Lee’s colourful fashion and confident stage persona has lifted her to ‘Instagram icon’ status - likely since their breakthrough Coachella performance last April - so the temptation to edge Lee to the band’s fore must’ve been weighing heavily, especially after the trio tested the waters and proved their song-writing chops on recent EP Texas Sun with Leon Bridges. Full-on proggy Latin lather ‘Pelota’ and triumphant ’So We Won’t Forget’ form the triplet of single releases, all featuring traditional accessible vocal song structures as it were, yet retain their subtlety and deft rather than risk spoiling the dynamic of a largely instrumental band’s portfolio.
Despite their uplifting vibrancy, the three-piece remain truly capable of portraying emotional gravitas with sheer instrumentation. ‘Father Bird, Mother Bird’, a spiritual, even astral jam bursting with sweetness and sadness sans vocals, forms a sister piece to ‘Cómo Te Quiero’, the homage to Lee’s late grandfather from previous album Con Todo El Mundo. You’d be hard-pushed to put your finger on a band so intricate in their instrumentation, yet so easy-listening (in no way a slight) and so moving.
In ‘If There’s No Question’, the mantra-like comfort of repeated, hazily delivered “You’re not crazy” reinforces affirmations we’ve been craving for these past few weird months, hearing Khruangbin effortlessly tie unifying, cosmic themes together within the myriad of influences they sumptuously reconstruct. “Can you imagine the joy/When I received your wonderful letter?/Your letter is the best gift.” Lee softly reflects in ‘Dearest Alfred’ - with the uncertainty that surrounds us, looking backwards can help lead the way forward, revisiting fond memories to help you navigate a crossroads. Precisely the kind of comfort the world needs right now.
The snowballing slew of sounds that Khruangbin have ingested has begun to slow down, with Mordechai more of an all-encompassing retrospective sonically, crystallising and capitalising on the attributes that have brought them success so far, situating themselves in the present. In their future, it would seem, subsequent and serious mainstream success is almost certain.