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Khruangbin: The Real Reverb Deal

The Texas trio’s chill fourth LP, A LA SALA, is a reiteration of their groovy, psychedelic strengths
Khruangbin (Photo credit: David Black)

Khruangbin – A LA SALA
Dead Oceans

Khruangbin have given rock scholars plenty to deconstruct.

A lovely, ingenious aberration, the Houston trio made reverb-soaked guitar instrumentals a pop proposition for the first time since the surf era. More importantly, they did this not as revivalists—surf’s Achilles’ heel—but in a personal and contemporary way, reflecting the diversity of their hometown and the upside of globalization known as music discovery. Guitarist Mark Speer (“Marko”) channels an ethnomusicologist’s Spotify library through his Stratocaster; bassist Laura Lee and drummer DJ Johnson are an SP-12 incarnate, propelling the band with a graceful mix of dub, hip-hop, and R&B. Of course they look fabulous too—a worldly, sexy Ventures or M.G.’s for the IG age. 

The trio also managed to expand their mission through collaborations that fit like a glove, including projects with Vieux Farka Touré and Leon Bridges. Their new LP, A LA SALA, is a reset record of sorts, a reaffirmation of their core aesthetic filigreed with found sounds. It’s a chill set, even by Khruangbin’s standards; the closer, “Les Petits Grits,” is post-rock Satie. The relative quietude—there are still grooves aplenty—makes you lean in, sizing up elements of songcraft and musicianship that might’ve previously hid underneath the band’s dancy, psychedelic scrim. This serves Khruangbin well, since they make music to Santo & Johnny’s level of wistfulness, and they can play their asses off. 

The performances are so good, in fact, you sometimes want to divide them into stems. On tracks like “Hold Me Up (Thank You),” Marko is a full-arrangement delivery system, handling melody, harmony, and rhythm with funky low-volume brio, and his crystalline arpeggios on “May Ninth” should cut the din of the busiest birch-paneled coffeehouses. It’s hard to be so stylized yet retain Khruangbin’s kind of staying power. You could kill the reverb and A LA SALA would still prevail. – GRADE: A 

You can preview A LA SALA at Bandcamp and elsewhere.

Dead Oceans