Album: Khruangbin – Mordechai review

by Hannah Ashcroft

After over three years of almost constant touring, Texan trio, Khruangbin, release their third album Mordechai. Primarily an instrumental group, the record marks a new venture for the band with the addition of vocals and a new sense of emotional directness.

Inspired by a moment of clarity when bassist, Laura Lee Ochoa, embarked on an impromptu hike with an almost stranger – with only the distant promise of a waterfall – she realised the joy of appreciating the journey rather than rushing towards a destination. Feeling liberated, she brought her new outlook to the band’s farmhouse studio and Mordechai, named after her guide, came to fruition.

Although Khruangbin have dabbled with vocals before, Mordechai has the feels of a change in direction. And while the trio have by no means deviated entirely from their distinctive sound, they have added a new depth to their nomadic music.

Time (You and I) is a playful take on disco – complete with an 80s grooves, staccato funk guitar and catchy pop hooks – it contemplates eternal youth. After the lead single, Father Bird, Mother Bird feels a little more subdued – the only instrumental on the album, Speer’s reverb laden guitar saunters in modal tones before entering a hypnotic call and response with percussion.

Not committing fully to the commercial verse/chorus structure, the vocals don’t detract from the instrumentation, but rather achieve an equilibrium -with each musical element complementing one another and yet occupying its own, individual space.

Connaissais de Face finds us privy to an murmured conversation, sitting somewhere between a Serge Gainsbourg track and a New Wave French film. But underneath the flourishing guitar lines, there’s a brief sense of regret –  ‘I would have loved to swim, but I had to work’.

After a self imposed day of silence, Ochoa spent the time filling notebooks with hundreds of pages of phrases that would come to make up the album. Sung in thoughtful refrains, her lyrics possess a meditative, transcendental quality – making each word more resonant and purposeful.

The recurring theme of Mordechai is memory – a thread which navigates the album through a range of influences and inspirations. From holding on to letting go – Dearest Alfred was inspired by a bundle of letters written by Ochoa’s Grandfather to his twin brother – ‘your letter is the best gift – write to me soon’ – while penultimate track, So We Won’t Forget, details her scrawling memories on Post Its on her apartment walls.

Khruangbin have always relished their international influences, from East Asian surf-rock to Persian funk and Jamaican dub – so it comes as no surprise that the band would express their lyrics in a multitude of languages and mediums. This is most noticeable on Pelota – the track is sung in Spanish, but the lyrics are loosely inspired by Japanese film.

With musical references originating from Pakistan, Korea and West Africa, Mordechai features strains of Indian Chanting Boxes and Congolese syncopated guitar; the band accredit their eclectic sound to Houston and describe their third album as a celebration of their culturally diverse hometown. It seems only fitting then that the band would choose First Class as their opener – a track that narrates lavish jet-setting before descending into a shout out to ‘H Town’.

As with the recording process, the album allows us to indulge in the band’s journey and delve into new thematic depths. Reflective and immersive – Mordechai is Khruangbin’s most memorable album yet.

Secret Meeting score: 80

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