It is not often (well maybe just this once) that you hear a band named after the Thai world for Aeroplane, yet Khruangbin are unlike most other bands. Hailing from Houston and recording most of their work in a remote barnyard in the Texas countryside, the three piece combine a psychedelic and bluesy sound, with (as they put it) “direct inspiration from Thai Funk and compilations of southeast Asian pop”. It is the exotic playfulness of this Thai influence, combined with the sparse and classic blues sounds synonymous with their Texan hometown, which has marked out Khruangbin as pretty hot propery, drawn admiration from luminaries like Bonobo. With The Universe Smiles Upon You, the band follow up a couple of brilliant releases on Night Time Stories (subsidiary of Late Night Tales) with their debut full length.
The album begins confidently with ‘Mr White’ (hear it at 25:50 above), a majestic track filled with fuzzy electric guitars, laid back drumming and faint echoes of what sound like chants from an ancient time. Like their previous releases, Khruangbin’s natural sense of melody continues to provide a sense of calm and spirituality that is impossible not to be moved by. The sparse arrangements on tracks such as ‘Two Fish and an Elephant’ and ‘The Man Who Took My Sunglasses’ also highlight how the bands charm and appeal lies in their simplicity.
Similar to bands like The xx, the Texan trio are able to use only a few elements – bass, guitar, and drums – to create sound so cinematic and rich with detail, yet economic and considered in their approach. No easy feat on a debut long player, they retain the essence of their sound throughout the ten tracks. Rather than creating something more grandiose and palatable to a wider audience, they have wisely continued to explore the mystical and melodic psychedelic excursions that succeeded so much on previous releases.
That’s not to say The Universe Smiles Upon You does not also cover new ground . ‘Dern Kala’ underpins the blissed out guitar noodling with a subtle reggae swing. ‘People Everywhere’ wouldn’t sound out of place on early Cymande album and the wistful ‘Little Joe and Mary’ recalls the works of classic Western film composer Ennio Morricone. Close your eyes for your long enough and your mind will soon be dreaming up images of the Old West! ‘White Gloves’ is the first Khruangbin song to feature fully formed vocals, but the addition almost makes the track too laid back and dreamy, distracting from the band’s strongest calling card – their brilliant musicianship.
But that’s just nit-picking. Despite this, The Universe Smiles Upon You expertly brings together the world of Thai Funk, surfer rock and films score to create an imaginative, inventive and sublime debut album. With the help of Tame Impala, Connan Mockasin and Mac De Marco, blues rock and psychedelia has made a comeback in the last few years and, judging by The Universe Smiles Upon You, we can add Khruangbin as key members of that resurgence in years to come.
The Universe Smiles Upon You is out 6th November on Night Time Stories – pre-order from the Late Night Tales website. Look out for a Khruangbin City Guide of Houston dropping this week, and catch them live in the UK from 23rd-30th Oct – more info at Songkick.