Google Khruangbin, and as well as discovering that it is Thai for ‘Engine Fly’, you will find a wealth of effusive reviews for the three-piece group and their first album The Universe Smiles Upon You. Watching them perform at the Trinity Centre last week, one could see immediately that they are more than worthy of such acclaim – Khruangbin are making waves and for all the right reasons.
Originally from Texas, their name is a tribute to the global influences on their music, most notably Thai funk, which is intertwined with surf soul and psychedelic elements. Their November 2015 debut is a hypnotic and seductive slow burner, combining the groovy rhythms of Laura Lee (bass) and Donald Johnson/DJ (drums) with the funk guitar sound of Mark Speer; intricate, and dripping with reverb. The result is an album that is so dreamy it insists upon a trance like level of relaxation and quickly has you floating like a log along a swollen tropical river.
I wasn’t totally sure how this laid back, mostly instrumental sound would work live but any concerns were quickly forgotten as Khruangbin produced an utterly enthralling display of their unique sound and massive talent. Arriving on stage they played their first three songs back to back, including album opener ‘Mr White’, and by the time Speer opened his mouth for the first time the crowd were theirs. The trio moved through most of their catalogue over the two-hour set, with particular highlights being the up-tempo ‘Still Alive’, and the especially sway inducing hit ‘White Gloves’ - a rare exhibit of the group’s gentle vocals.
The story goes that many of the songs on their album were improvised in their studio sessions and thus the group had to re-learn all their songs for their performance. As the show developed into more and more of a jam session so this became increasingly plausible. Speer began to flaunt his exceptional guitar skills and the group exhibited some of their other musical influences with a cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Laura Lee giggled as Speer chattered more and more, flitting from charming to indulgent, all the while underpinned by DJ’s smooth, understated drumbeats. The obvious camaraderie between the three infects the gig with a great sense of fun as Kinder Eggs and dog biscuits are passed this way and that and DJ shows us his ‘anti-drum solo’. This culminates in a playful encore that includes their take on Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Whatta Man’ and a Thai funk cover that I couldn’t possibly hope to spell here, all rounded off with a particularly bloated monologue from Speer. Khruangbin’s passion for the obscure is clear, and this makes them a totally unique listen, a shining example of modern artistic borrowing. They will be back, and with a follow up album expected in 2017, this space needs watching closely.