The past decade has seen the term ‘world music’ retired from all but the most pig-headed of publications. The reason for this fall from favour (just in case my nan happens upon this piece) is the evident unfairness of sub-categorising western music down into such hyper specific genres as acid jazz, neo-psychedelia and djent, while cramming every ‘foreign’ genre from Afrobeat to Zydeco under one catchall term, is super fucking patronising (sorry nan).
But what about music that so all-encompassing, so unifying, that it sounds as if every nation, creed and culture had been rolled up together and sprinkled into one hefty joint? Music that looks beyond its borders and attempts to vibe with the collective entirety of the human race at once? As their name suggests, this is exactly what Khruangbin (‘aeroplane’ in Thai) attempt to do every time they pick up their instruments. So successful was this approach on debut album ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’, that it catapulted the trio to sold out tours around the globe, including an absolutely show-stealing performance on Glastonbury’s West Holt stage last year.
It’s unsurprising, then, that the band has doubled down on this approach with a sophomore that's Spanish-language title quite literally translates into ‘With All The World’. ‘Cómo Me Quieres’ takes the sonic palette of ‘Universe’, which largely refracted obscure Thai Funk influences through their recording barn in Texas, and expands it to take on musical influences from further afield. On this whistle-stop tour Khruangbin take on such diverse styles as Iranian Pop (on the spindly guitars of lead single ‘Maria También’), Cuban Soul (on the smooth-as-silk ‘August 10’) and classic East Coast hip-hop (on the Questlove-indebted ‘Shades Of Man’).
The latter influence comes courtesy of drummer and hip-hop producer Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson, who’s deceptively pre-programmed drum sound stands at odds with both Laura Lee’s funk-fuelled bass lines and the freewheeling psychedelia of Mark Speer’s guitar. It’s this gentle crash of different musical continents that allows Khruangbin to blend disparate global styles with such grace. Their decision to largely eschew lyrics from their songs helps add to their image as a band who can appeal equally to listeners from any nation, language or people. When the trio do employ vocals they are mixed low and sung as a group, the audibility of any English lyrics overwritten by the importance of frictionless unity and the sound of collective celebration.
That being said, it’s a shame that this album lacks a ‘White Gloves’, the unexpected moment of lyrical clarity from their first album that continues to pack the biggest emotional punch at the group’s live shows. But what ‘Cómo Me Quieres’ does have is the standout jam ‘Evan Finds The Third Room’, an intriguing, euphoric slice of Nile Rodgers-indebted disco that sounds like less manic version of Talking Heads circa ‘Remain In Light’. The way the record then slips straight into the wistful pool of ‘The Hymn’ is also a testament to its sublime arrangement: it really does feel like a holiday that never needs to end.
Khruangbin didn’t need to change much on this album, the sound they produce as a unit is still fresh, exciting and uniquely life-affirming. Only time will tell whether their relatively simple and largely instrumental formula will pull the listener in quite as effectively on future releases, once the novelty has worn off. For now you have full permission to cancel January and simply bask in the warm, universal glow of real world music.
Words: Josh Gray
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