Mordechai, the third full-length release from Texas “Thai-funk” outfit Khruangbin, comes as the latest installment from a band which has been defined by change, yet somewhat boxed in as a result of it.
When the trio first came onto the scene with The Universe Smiles Upon You in 2015, they were the new hot thing because of their proliferation of foreign sounds—foreign, both in the uniqueness of their approach and in their band utilization of sounds from all over the world. Yet, when the group released Con Todo El Mundo in 2018, people seemed to have figured out the formula: root note bass licks from Laura Lee Ochoa, simple breakbeats from Donald Ray “DJ” Johnson, and reverb-drenched, Dick Dale-esque lead riffs from Mark Speer. Put it on repeat.
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On Mordechai, however, the Houston-bred band has shown its ability to get with the times while also staying true to the sound that made the band what it is today. Between Con Todo El Mundo and Mordechai, Khruangbin released a collaborative EP with fellow Texas native Leon Bridges, entitled Texas Sun. This EP featured vocals throughout, rather than the instrumental grooves with occasional input from Ochoa which fans had come to expect from previous records. This is where the changes for Mordechai came in.
The first things fans will notice, and the first thing the band revealed about the album when it was first announced, are the lyrics, but this is only the first symptom of the changes rippling through the band. Laura Lee also added the last name Ochoa after a baptism-like experience jumping off of a cliff into a waterfall, at which point she screamed out her grandfather’s name, Mordechai. That experience is inextricably linked to her as well as to the album, as the band finds new emphasis on the journey which music, and life as traveling musicians, has afforded them. Thus, on Mordechai, we see a band that’s changing, but not in any particular hurry.
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On the opening track, “First Class”, the band gets its bags checked and climbs aboard the airplane that is Khruangbin (the band name’s loose transition in Thai). This first track is a gentle taxi away from the terminal as we hear the familiar refrain in a foreign tongue from Ochoa in the background and Speer begins to turn on the engines with that reliable reverb tone. This is the part where we take one last good look at the airport, our hometown, or wherever we have just been and take off on a new destination.
Next, on “Time (You And I)“, the audience and the band have achieved liftoff and the party has started. While we aren’t too far away from our point of origin, what with the familiar ’70s disco beat, we are surely heading toward our new destination as some new elements come in, chiefly being Ochoa’s prominent vocals, “If we had more time/We could live forever/Just You and I/We could be together.” Oh, if only we had more time in the air together.
Then comes “Connaissais de Face”, which roughly translates to “know from the front,” one of the songs on Mordechai which most directly presents the band’s changing style—from the opening, Caribbean-style riff where Speer’s guitar playfully mixes with an overdubbed Minimoog all the way through the eery dialogue which runs through the song. “Connaissais de Face” shows the cinematic allure of Khruangbin’s music, the way it makes any conversation or scene—like this one of reminiscence between to old lovers—seem so much more artistic. It’s no wonder why the band’s songs keep popping up in TV commercials for everything to Miller Lite to the new Hulu series, Ramy. The lyrics on “Connaissais de Face” are no longer a gimmick of a band trying to dispel critics of instrumental music. Instead, on this track, the words are as important as the music.
Back in the cabin, things get familiar again on “Father Bird, Mother Bird” as the flight attendant comes by with the same old bag of pretzels the airlines have been giving out for 20 years. The opening notes of the song are a dead ringer for “Cómo Me Quieres” from Con Todo El Mundo, but this is merely the part of the record where Khruangbin shows that the band is still, at its core, the same one that drew you in five years ago with grooves from foreign lands. The next several tracks, “If there Is no question”, “Pelota“, and “One To Remember”, on the other hand, signal the transition into foreign airspace. We’re somewhere else now, an unfamiliar territory.
But just like traveling to somewhere new, we look for familiar landmarks. This place has a McDonald’s too, and you can still get Budweiser. Same with these three tracks; they have those familiar contributions from each member of the band, but there is a new tinge to it. Maybe it’s because you haven’t had these songs on repeat for the past couple years, or maybe it’s because there actually is something new in them other than their release date.
By the time Mordechai wraps up with “So We Won’t Forget” and “Shida”, it’s hard to even realize that we ever left home. On “So We Won’t Forget“, we get some more of that disco breakbeat heard back on “Time (You And I)”. It’s reminiscent of that land we once left and reminds us that maybe things aren’t so different here. Finally, on “Shida”, Khruangbin lulls us all back into comfort with Speer’s soothing, reverberated guitar passages, the ever-present gentle moans in the background from Laura, and DJ’s drums rocking the cradle back and forth under a far-off sky. By the end of Mordechai, we are back at home in unfamiliar territory—the only “home” Khruangbin fans have ever known.
Listen to the new Khruangbin album, Mordechai, on the platform of your choice here or stream it below:
Khruangbin — Mordechai – Full Album