Music

Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Photo: Tamsin Isaacs / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.

Mordechai
Khruangbin

Dead Oceans

26 June 2020

Houston's Khruangbin have gradually been building up a global audience over their young career. Their mixture of funk, R&B, psychedelia, and a grab bag of world-spanning musical influences has connected with a wide variety of listeners. Their largely instrumental approach has likely helped make it easier for them to pull in people who don't have to focus on English-language lyrics. With their third album, Mordechai, their approach to vocals has changed a bit, but they are still bringing a wide array of styles to their music.

Bouncy single "Pelota" typifies the band's revised approach. Over a skittering Latin beat and a funky bassline, guitarist Mark Speer opens the song with a typically melodic lead, sounding, like it so often does in Khruangbin, like the guitar will be the primary melody instrument. But Speer's guitar quickly gives way to Spanish-language vocals that drive the rest of the track. Handclaps, timbales, and lots of cowbell add to the song's Latin flair, and Speer lays back to let the singing be the focus, although he does include a typically lyrical solo two-thirds of the way through the song.

Several other tracks on Mordechai also feature lead vocals, with varying degrees of importance. Album opener "First Class", a slow funk workout, uses vocals as punctuation, with occasional exclamations of "First class!" and "Solamente!" Meanwhile, Speer's heavily reverbed guitar takes the melody, and Laura Lee's expressive bass playing serves as a counterpoint. It's not the most engaging use of vocals on the album and a surprisingly laid-back way to start the record. The more upbeat second song, "Time (You and I)", finds the band with a strong groove led by Lee's active bassline, with Speer on disco wah-wah rhythm guitar duties. The vocals are front and center here, with the refrain, "That's life / If we had more time / We could live forever / Just you and I / We could be together", repeating more than a dozen times through the song.

The highlight of Mordechai is also a vocal track, the sweet, breezy pop song "So We Won't Forget". DJ Johnson's light touch drumming locks in with Lee's bass, while Speer plays chiming, easygoing guitar accents. Like "Pelota", the vocal melody drives the song, a soft falsetto that sings (intentionally?) muddled lyrics and finishes most lines with, "So we won't forget." It's simple and catchy and a lot of fun.

But Khruangbin don't forget their more instrumental workouts. "Father Bird, Mother Bird" is a vaguely Latin-sounding track that hearkens back to what the band did on their earlier records. Speer plays expressively over a strong, slow rhythm section groove, often making his guitar sound like it's singing a vocal melody. The song is at its best when Lee doubles up Speer, making for a powerful duet, especially since it's just the core three instruments. "One to Remember" is similar, the album's slowest track, testing how laid-back Johnson and Lee can get while maintaining the groove. Echoes of vocals do appear here, softly singing the melody and lyrics to "So We Won't Forget", a full two tracks before that song appears.

"Dearest Alfred" and "Connaissais de Face" approach romance in different ways. The former is another slow jam, led by Speer and the vocal refrain "Your letter is the best gift." It's about longing and anticipation. "Conaissais de Face", on the other hand, is about flirting and the promise of something more intimate. A pair of acquaintances, a man and a woman, reconnect and have a spoken-word conversation about the old days and the other members of their friend group. The music itself feels sexy and flirty, while the conversation, soft but audible, grabs the listener's attention. After a lengthy instrumental interlude, the couple returns, in an even lower register, with a few lines that imply more will be happening after the song, before fading away.

Mordechai, for all its use of vocals, really shows off the chops and interplay of the drums, bass, and guitar at Khruangbin's core. Even the songs that didn't grab me at first are a pleasure to listen to for the way Speer, Lee, and Johnson play together. They lock in as an ensemble, clearly listening closely to each other, and that chemistry comes through no matter the speed or style of song they're playing. Not all of the vocal tracks work, but when they really go for it, like on "Pelota" and "So We Won't Forget", the band show how well they can integrate singing into their impressive playing.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.