REVIEW: Khruangbin’s latest album Mordechai is a sliding spiral of funk but lacks innovation

Khruangbin's latest album Mordechai

Mordechai is a long spiralling journey spanning across genre and rhythm which, although at times is less innovative than you’d want, it still remains what it is at its core — more hip-dip inducing Khruangbin.

It is with a very heavy heart I write these words. Khruangbin, a personal all-time favourite since inadvertently coming across their debut album The Universe Smiles Upon You, has disappointed me.

The album, 10 songs long and standing at the 43-minute mark, was a hotly awaited release since their EP collaborating with fellow Texan and fellow songsmith Leon Bridges from Texas Sun. With said EP, we heard a different kind of Khru, a fusion of Bridges’ modern blues-soul and their own psychedelic funk. After ‘Time (You and I)’ was released at the beginning of lockdown, many eager fans expected bold new steps for our favourite Thai-inspired band with this exciting fresh disco break from a band which has mastered the head-bobbing, slow-moving funk.

We have already been graced with three singles released throughout lockdown. ‘Time (You and I)’, as mentioned, is a P-funk layered disco break, ‘Pelota’ a summery, flamenco-infused bop and ‘So We Won’t Forget’ a light, summery but slightly off-the-mark attempt at vocal mirroring with complex, rolling guitar.

They also happen to be three of the more memorable songs on the album.

This is where my personal disappointment stems from. Had they not released ‘Time’, a truly stand-out disco-rooted funk break, and had I not personally adored their collaboration with Bridges, maybe I would have enjoyed the languid trip on which Mordechai takes us. After all, they are excellent musicians, genre-breaking and truly talented; maybe after multiple listens I’ll be satisfied and understand what they are creating here.

Listening to both the album and the Spotify curated playlist of ‘Khruangbin presents Mordechai’, the songs are decidedly good but push few barriers which the trio is more than capable of crossing.

The opening track ‘First Class’ draws you in and is undoubtedly a smooth hip-dip, head-bob track to enjoy on a summer evening. The vocal texture of this song apparently took some figuring out according to the storyline available on Spotify but the almost haunting echo of Laura Lee and Mark Speer’s voices are certainly pleasing on a backdrop of classic Khruangbin — guitar backflips, subtle but rhythmic bass and high-hat filled drums.

‘Connaissais de Face’, one of the more memorable Mordechai tracks to not be pre-released, edges toward the new territory I’d so been hoping for while still staying classically Khruangbin. Lee and Speer talk over the track, husky voices overlaid on to more guitar tricks and even what sounds like some kind of Deep South church organ.

‘One to Remember’ is sadly one to forget. Yes, it provides us all with another, heat-filled headiness of chill that Khruangbin offer so well and the classic “oooo” from Lee that we hear so frequently on Con Todo El Mundo resurfaces. However, for their most lyrically-driven album, the songs lacking lyrics now seem more like space fillers than tracks to go deeper into what the trio can pull off.

There is no denying that ‘Pelota’ and ‘Time (You and I)’ are the two standout songs on Khruangbin’s latest album. If a song can make you think, “when did flamenco funk become a thing?” then you know something has gone very right. And given that my disco phase was a burning obsession between ages 17 and 19 (which has since dissipated like the dying star it was four decades ago), the fact that ‘Time’ made me get up and start singing “That’s life” in one of the fifteen languages that Mordechai features, impressed me. It is interesting to note that the two most interesting tracks are indeed the most lyrical.

As Pitchfork put it, “Khruangbin’s eclecticism clearly stems from real devotion to music from outside the Western pop-rock canon, and their willingness to direct listeners toward their influences shows an admirable lack of pretence about where it all comes from.”

It is a hard pill to swallow but it may be true: Khruangbin’s excellence came from their difference and now that the sound has been repeated for the third time, they risk falling into a Mac Demarco-esque fate of always good to listen to, but no longer your first choice.

Read our other album reviews here.