Review: Khruangbin Beckons Listeners to Explore More on ‘A LA SALA’

Videos by American Songwriter

(Dead Oceans)
4 out of 5 stars

It’s back to basics for Khruangbin, as the Texas trio’s fourth studio album, its first in four years, returns to the more organic vibe of their earlier work. A flurry of recent live sets found the threesome inviting multiple guests to enhance their rudimentary guitar/bass/drums format.

A few recent EPs featuring fellow Texan soul singer Leon Bridges had stretched the band’s formerly straightforward boundaries. And concert recordings with Toro Y Moi, The Suffers, and Robert Ellis, along with a slew of remixes, had the three-piece expanding their already unique art—a mostly instrumental mix of reflective Spaghetti Western, Thai rock, subtle surf, low-key funk, and even tinges of disco.

For A LA SALA (“To the room” in Spanish), Khruangbin returns to the stripped-down and discreetly animated approach that made albums such as Con Todo el Mundo(2018)so popular. 

On paper, there doesn’t seem to be much that would attract a large audience. But once you experience Mark Speer’s spacious, reverb-drenched guitar, Donald “DJ” Johnson Jr.’s spare percussion, and Laura Lee Ochoa’s modest but perfectly conceived bass lines, along with her wistful and sultry singing, it becomes clear these three together generate virtually indescribable music that’s unlike anything else. 

After shifting to a somewhat club-influenced, dance-like approach on Mordechai(2020), the minimally overdubbed tunes on A LA SALA lower the temperature. Titles such as “Farolim de Felgueiras,” with its audio effects of shoes clicking on a watery street, and the ominous “Ada Jean” could appear as background music for international film noir. “May Ninth,” the second single, sees Ochoa’s trademark breathy vocals float in a splendid moody haze. And “A Love International” is classic Khruangbin, as bass, drums, and guitar evoke a scene along the Seine on a glorious spring evening.

Like its simple, evocative cover painting of puffy white clouds drifting by a window, Khruangbin’s music hangs and hovers, creating an ethereal ambiance beckoning the listener to explore more of their addictive, atmospheric sound. 

Photo by David Black

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