We take air travel for granted. Ever since transcontinental flights started hitting supersonic speed in the middle of the 20th century, billions of everyday people have been able to comb the globe in a matter of hours, so much so that it’s become humdrum. Consider the last time you marvelled at a takeoff from your window seat, rather than fix your eyes on the in-flight entertainment embedded in the headrest in front of you; consider your annoyance at a minor flight delay, rather than have your mind blow by the fact that you’re about to be propelled through the air in a jumbo jet.
Since the start of the pandemic, however, global travel has become an abstract concept to most. Despite this absence, we’re able to take journeys, if you will, through the art we consume. Take Khruangbin’s new Mordechai. It’s the Houston, TX, trio’s third full-length, and like those earlier albums, it vibrates with a worldly mix of sounds, whether through Thai funk, reverb-caked dub, or North American surf and soul. It’s not for nothing that the band’s name, as their Twitter bio reminds us, “means airplane.” It’s only fitting, then, that bassist Laura Lee, guitarist Mark Speer, and drummer DJ Johnson open their latest with “First Class”, a champagne toast that revels in Luxor-lush guitar work, a slight echo of vibraphone, and an undeniable bump. Take note, though, of the final destination they sing of as “First Class” draws to a close: H-Town. This is a hometown groove.
Earlier this year, the trio teamed up with soul singer, and one-time tour partner, Leon Bridges to deliver their crossover Texas Sun EP, its title track regaling listeners with pedal-steel driven country-soul. On Mordechai, Khruangbin returned to a barn in remote Burton, TX—some 85 miles northwest of Houston proper—to cook up this latest 10-song release. Whether by way of vintage boogie (“Time (You and I)”) or the rubberized guitar runs and motorcade of claps that drive “Pelota”, Mordechai is big on bounce. Johnson and Lee are a locked-and-loaded rhythm section, while Speer alternates between glitterball plinking and fluid chirrups (see the especially joyous “Father Birds, Mother Bird”). Of Mordechai’s more relaxed moments, check the extra-spacious, heartbeat thud Johnson brings to “If There is No Question”, or the soothing wash of delay affixed to vocals and snares on the dub-style “Ones to Remember.”
How Mordechai most notably switches things up for Khruangbin is the near omni-present vocals the traditionally instrumental outfit have opted to include this time around. More often than not, the lines are sung as a group. Much of it circles around the passage of time. “Time (You and I)” delivers daydream maxims (“if we had more time, we could live forever”); the three-quarter sway of “Connaissais de Face” includes a conversational catch-up between two friends as they reminisce on various acquaintances they’ve met over the years (“He asked me to marry him” “I’m not surprised”); soulful slow-jam “Dearest Alfred” muses on a growing distance (“we hardly see or speak anymore”), yet its narrator remains grateful for those rare moments of connection (“your letter is the best gift”).
Mordechai literally expands Khruangbin’s vocabulary, while the group’s eclectic whirl continues to soar through a soulful stratosphere. First class, all the way.
review by Gregory Adams
Mordechai comes out on June 27, via Secretly Canadian
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