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18th April 2024

Khruangbin’s LP, A LA SALA: Slight shifts make all the difference

Texan three-piece instrumentalists Khruangbin return with their newest LP, A LA SALA, demonstrating that a band can grow with the most subtle of changes
Khruangbin’s LP, A LA SALA: Slight shifts make all the difference
Mark Speer @ Khruangbin

Khruangbin are something of a bizarre band in 2024. Known for their cinematic, largely instrumental tracks which seamlessly float from psychedelic loops to tracks that could just as easily be offcuts from an old Western soundtrack, they seem an odd fit in the hook-driven Tiktok era. Described in a rather sardonic fashion by The New York Times as “the sound you hear inside your lava lamp”, the group occupy a space some have ordained as ‘mood music’ – the type of tunes to accompany your morning routine or commute home.

The band are known for their strange approach to stitching together their songs, with drummer and keyboard-extraordinaire DJ Johnson providing at first a drum-loop, which is then built upon and driven along by Laura Lee Ochoa’s groove-ridden basslines. The final piece of the puzzle is Mark Speer’s psychedelic guitar flutters, which in bringing the harmonic colour and agency to the individual cuts, completes the Frankensteined musical process.

The result however is deceptively clever and frankly, stunning.

David Black @ Toast PR

For some, A LA SALA may not appear as a particular outlier in the band’s catalogue. The LP opens with ‘Fifteen Fifty-Three’, with Ochoa’s bass pulling the band into action. Speer’s reverb-drenched guitars meander in, laid back as ever. DJ Johnson’s drums provide that ever-present Dilla-beat loop.

While not an extreme tonal shift by any means, the album provides its own subtle adjustments to the Khruangbin sound. Track two is a perfect example of this, as ‘May Ninth’ shows an almost soundtrack-like string to Khruangbin’s bow. Speer’s wandering, arpeggiated guitar lines, interjected by his typical lead flourishes, paint a very different type of picture, all with that recognisable Khruangbin sound. As per usual, the track is anchored by the rhythm section, but it is this slight difference in guitar that extends their sound that bit further.

‘May Ninth’, alongside the likes of the even softer track ‘Caja de la Sala’ (meaning ‘box-room’ in Spanish) or the atmospheric ‘Three from Two’, could easily be found on an indie film score of some kind, accentuating that moment of emotive reflection – in my head, at least.

For me, ‘Three from Two’ is a particular highlight on the record, as a distantly whirling organ lifts the band up to their very peak. With chord changes straight out of the forgotten Motown soul playbook, the three-piece invites us to enjoy the bare bones of the music presented. No flash videos, no coy adverts, just pretty melodies.

The exact same can be seen on the likes of ‘Todavia Viva’, as subtle string melodies fit perfectly alongside the odd asymmetrical percussion in one ear or the other. Khruangbin are clearly a group of musicians deeply aware of the canon they will no doubt form a part of when all is said and done, drawing from any soul or funk aficionado’s record collection.

David Black @ Toast PR

Throughout the record, background noise seems to be dragged to the fore – whether it be with the at-times vinyl-hiss style of production or literal field recordings. This is particularly evident with the spatial cut ‘Farolim de Felgueiras’ but can be seen at moments across the album.

Moving to a close, the group seem to reveal more and more on the LP, especially with the curiously piano-led closer, ‘Les Petit Gris’. Stripped from the track is all semblance of groove – what is laid bare are the stunningly fragile chords, Speer’s delicate lead guitar and a tastefully plucked bassline moving the track slowly forward.

In a musical age of Tiktok-driven hooks, and constant discussion of such hook-driven music, Khruangbin’s A LA SALA instead provides a stunning solace from it all. Their newest LP A LA SALA provides so much more than just another Khruangbin album. Rather, the record serves as brilliant music with which to cut out all of the noise, and instead focus on the beauty.

The best summary that I can offer is this: as I was scrolling Instagram, I was advertised a KEXP-style live session of a band called Glass Beams, and it all became apparent to me. Khruangbin have not only struck a chord with a large audience, but they have had influence enough to create their own peculiar industry-planted offspring. This new record of theirs is a case in point that to truly capture focus as a largely instrumental band, even the subtlest shifts matter.

If it be in the background, or right at the forefront of your concentration, Khruangbin deserve to be there – heard and enjoyed.

Jacob Broughton-Glerup

Jacob Broughton-Glerup

Jacob Broughton-Glerup is a music journalist and avid music fan from Sheffield interested in all things lyrical and odd.

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