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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Khruangbin's Con Todo El Mundo, which is out on Friday, and available in the VMP store right now.
If you live in most of the contiguous 50 states, right now, your climate is something like a dark grey sludge cave. Which means we have two options to make it through to spring alive: next-day ship one of those hoaxy SAD light therapy lamps or you could just listen to Khruangbin’s new album Con Todo El Mundo. Drawing most heavily from '60 world funk, they meld the sunniness of surfer psych rock, the ease of dub and the soul and warmth of soul and R&B. It’s guaranteed to dig you out of even the worst of funks (pun absolutely intended, don’t @ me).
With traces of a smorgasbord of influence scattered throughout each track, it’s hard to put your finger on what Khraungbin are trying to accomplish. But a look at the bands’ members and origins could assist as a loose map. The band is comprised of Laura Lee (bass) and Mark Speer (guitar), who met on tour with Yppah supporting Bonobo in 2010, as well as Donald “DJ” Johnson (drums), a long-time co-member of Speer’s gospel band. Despite the members’ obvious similarities, Khruangbin’s sound is the product of a collision between three distinct, eclectic musical wheelhouses. Lee told Noisey in 2015 that, although the band share a common ground of soul and R&B, she gravitates toward “psychedelic music, dub and groovy French pop music,” Speer toward world music from “namely Ethiopia, Thailand, Jamaica, and the Near East,” and Johnson to gospel, also working in rap and hip-hop production.
While comprised of three Texans, their name Khruangbin translates from Thai to mean “engine fly” or “airplane,” largely in reference to their globe-spanning sound. Fittingly, their 2015 debut album The Universe Smiles Upon You pulled most heavily from '60s Thai funk, as the band turned to cassettes and compilations of southeast Asian pop, rock and funk for inspiration during its recording. Without changing the original core elements of their sound, on Con Todo El Mundo the trio pivot more toward the funk and soul sounds stemming of the Middle East, particularly Iran.
Regardless of geographical or cultural influence, across both works, they remain distinctly Khruangbin. The group has a knack for respecting sounds potentially considered “unapproachable” to the average Western listener, but melding them into something as listenable as it is challenging. With the lush combined backgrounds and affinities of all three members, tangibly packing in such expansive influence has the potential to feel cluttered or unfocused. But those are the last possible descriptors that come to mind with Con Todo El Mundo. Instead, it’s spacious and intuitive from start to finish.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.