Album Review: Khruangbin – Mordechai

[Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories; 2020]

Mordechai is Khruangbin’s fourth release, having started with their hazy and delightful debut project The Universe Smiles Upon You in 2015, which they followed with the similarly psychedelic Con Todo el Mundo in 2018, and then a collaborative EP with fellow Texan singer-songwriter Leon Bridges, Texas Sun, earlier this year. The question is then posed, where does the Texan trio next take their sound? There has always been the risk that their music frustratingly falls into the chilled beats aesthetic, where their clearly well-crafted atmospheric sounds barely register with the passing listener. It’s a continued challenge for the band to keep those people consistently engaged while making this type of music.

Khruangbin clearly took this on board; Mordechai is still very much a psychedelic vista of an album, but the difference is all with the vocals. The bassist of the group, Laura Lee Ochoa, takes command, with her long, stretched-out phrases adding massively to their overall kaleidoscopic groove. The interesting thing here is that the vocals never take a front line, instead they’re always carefully mixed to merely assist the guitar or percussion, creating a fuller sonic experience for the listener.

Lead single “Time (You and I)” is probably the best example; a slick piece of soul-influenced disco-funk with a bassline so hip that J Dilla could have written it. The track would not be complete without Laura Ochoa’s vocals; her almost-hypnotising repetitive melody plays a huge part in this piece as it does throughout many other parts of the record.

A Khruangbin record cannot be talked about without mentioning the wide array of globe-trotting influences. “Pelota” is a bossa nova-esque floor-filler, with Ochoa’s Spanish vocals sounding almost more at home than her native tongue performances, and specks of Portuguese and several other languages can also be heard in “Time (You and I)”. In “So We Won’t Forget” they pair some lovely Congolese guitar plucking with another fantastic vocal melody.  The list goes on.

All of it really shows how far the trio have come in terms of developing their style of true “world music”. While many far-flung destinations will be off limits this summer, Khruangbin promise to take you on a far-reaching journey with Mordechai.