Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Houston’s pre-eminent psych-funk trio Khruangbin get back to basics on A La Sala

"A La Sala"

Release date: 22 March 2024
Khruangbin A La Sala cover
10 April 2024, 09:00 Written by Janne Oinonen

On paper, Khruangbin’s mash-up of seemingly disparate sounds seems like a risky case of genre-hopping overreach.

In reality, their gently throbbing funk/soul, heavy-lidded psychedelia, robust pulses of Jamaican music, various global offshoots of exotic funkiness, with a whiff of Tropicalia and a drop of arid desert air has turned the predominantly instrumental trio from Houston, Texas into the market leaders of what could reasonably be described as ‘record collector grooves’.

With bands such as superb Stockholm quartet Dina Ögon now also offering their alchemic infusions of the same tastefully hip source materials, Khruangbin’s low-lit, sleekly laidback yet firmly rhythmic intricate instrumentals have proven increasingly influential. Yet the trio have recently slipped away from the ever-present danger of predictable staleness inherent in their self-imposed limitations by collaborating with neo-soul singer Leon Bridges and, perhaps most notably, Malian guitar virtuoso Vieux Farka Toure, on 2022’s Ali, a boldly imaginative tribute to desert blues originator Ali Farka Toure.

A La Sala, then, marks something of a return to the band’s foundational basic elements. For the first time on a Khruangbin album, there are no guests, and the material is reportedly drawn from earlier shelved ideas. However, there is little sense here of drying inspiration. The unshowy and fluid virtuoso chops of guitarist Mark Speer (who packs an enviable skill to match startling technical prowess with genuinely affecting emotion: Speer’s instrument seems to be on the verge of tears on slow-burn opener “Fifteen Fifty-Three”) occupy most of the spotlight, but the gentle yet relentless pulses of sparsely funky rhythm section of bassist Laura Lee and drummer DJ Johnson are the secret weapon that keeps Khruangbin’s music airborne.

The highlights of A La Sala – the near-ambient minimalism of featherweight closer “Les Petits Gris”, and the gorgeously melancholy sway of “May Ninth” – suggest fresh ways forward via subtle expansions of the trio’s signature sound, with vocal chants, drum-free ambient drifts and a general sense of hushed downbeat introspection entering the frame. During the less arresting moments, the occasionally vanishingly thin line between luxuriously smooth yet substantial, emotionally resonant mood music and unobtrusive signifiers of cool tastefulness destined to soundtrack a plush bar dispatching overpriced cocktails bubbles closer to the surface.

On A La Sala, Khruangbin prove their talent for making intricate instrumental music that is capable of casting an evocative spell, whilst also hinting at the potential downfalls of becoming locked inside the band’s mid-tempo comfort zone: more of the steadily intensifying drama of gently soaring first single “A Love International” would be welcome.

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