PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
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

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


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.