The dreaded algorithm is one of the most misunderstood and overly abused subjects in modern music. A means for streaming services to cater to your tastes, it’s produced more than its fair share of anonymous murk, but it’s also propelled some absolute jewels to playlist pinnacles, too. For the latter, see exhibit one: Khruangbin.
On the surface, the Texas trio’s rise is remarkable, even miraculous. Indebted to 60s Thai funk recordings and deep cuts from Spain and the Middle East, their cosmic groove specialises in providing perfect chill out music, erased even the tiniest elements of doubt and anxiety from your mind amid its rhythmic undulations.
Onstage in London’s Alexandra Palace, the trio extend their funky tendrils out over North London, a kind of miasmic percussive brew that infiltrates the most intimate elements of your consciousness. Indeed, it’s kind of addictive: like a full body yoga session, at sunrise, with the Pacific Ocean lapping on your toes, Khruangbin are here for the good times, the times that last.
A group who aim for feel over accuracy, the set eases into gear with ‘First Class’ and ‘August 12’ before the snappy funk of ‘August 10’ lifts the blood pressure a little. Each song is allowed to stretch out to its conclusion, like a deeply held breath patiently exhaled. Guitarist Mark Speer – whose glorious attire more firmly resembles Rick James – strides across the stage, while bass player Laura Lee (equally glamorous, the two pairing up as gloriously sexy cosmonauts of androgynous funk) is on the opposite side of the stage. The redoubtable DJ Johnson plays it steady in the middle, lifting the levels when necessary, and letting them drop into the murk when required.
Indeed, there’s an element of The Jam Band about Khruangbin: the epic solos, the taut grooves, and the inclusion of some neat – and not so neat – interpolations. Seguing into reggae riddim ‘Bam Bam’ is a masterstroke, something that will demolish festivals this summer; the later inclusion of the ‘Eastenders’ theme – yes, really – in a closing mash-up is funny, but kinda illustrates the point. It’s a Jam Band, but a juicy, sexually illicit Jam Band.
Of course, it helps that the material completely transcends that descriptor. ‘Maria Tambien’ is the snappy conclusion to the main set, and it offers Khruangbin in excelsis: blunt, stabbing guitar, neck-snapping drum beats, and Laura Lee’s persuasive, elastic bass-line. There’s some quiet yet radiant inner joy to their songwriting, some universal quality that dives into deep oceans of dank sub-aqueous funk.
Staring up into the ceiling as yet another cloud of weed smoke rolls past, we’re able to intimately submerse ourselves into Khruangbin’s universe, fully absorbed into the all-encompassing womb of groove. The endless, perpetual oscillations collapse over our heads, and we’re left to ponder if the algo-rhythm might just have the best beats.
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Words: Robin Murray
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