Rotten as they are, imperialism and our globalized mass culture can sometimes produce unique and beautiful, if unintended, hybrids. Case in point: Texas-based Khruangbin, who play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on April 13 and 14. The band’s name roughly translates to “airplane” in Thai and their new album, entitled Con Todo El Mundo, is Spanish for “with the whole world” — fitting since their influences span the globe.
Thai rock and roll, soul, surf rock, French yé-yé, Levantine chalice drum rhythms — Khruangbin is the manifestation of an idealized universal harmony: a melding and collaboration of cultures without stripping any of their unique voice and experience. Differences in sound and style are recognized, showcased and celebrated, all while serving the universal groove.
The elements that comprise Khruangbin’s sound are not wholly original in and of themselves, but are the product of cross-cultural pollination stretching back decades. Dick Dale, for instance, the godfather of surf guitar, started out as a child accompanying his loud-plucking uncle on tarabaki drum. Thus the pulsating picking style synonymous with surf has its roots in Lebanese music.
During France’s occupation of Cambodia and Vietnam, yé-yé melded with Southeast Asian folk stylings and, during the Vietnam War, American troops brought soul, funk, R&B and the discordant guitar rock of that era east. In Thailand too — an important American waystation during the war — musicians incorporated Western influences into their traditional music.
Khruangbin is the manifestation of an idealized universal harmony.
All of this brings us to present day Texas and Khruangbin. A shared love of Thai funk and rock records from the 1960s and 1970s — preserved on the internet via niche Blogspot sites — gave the band a guiding aesthetic. Khruangbin’s follow-up to their 2015 debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, incorporates a new bag of tricks learned from Indian and Middle-Eastern influences, like the Iranian instrumental funk group the Black Cats and Indian bands like the Fentones.
Con Todo El Mundo kicks off with the hot, sticky “Como Me Quieres,” and stays in the groove for 43 minutes straight. Sharp drums set the pace, the bass bounces alongside and the lead guitar dances around it all. It’s not “easy listening,” but it’s super easy to listen to, almost a sexier, modern-day take on the exotica music popular in mid-century suburban living rooms.
These songs will inevitably inspire you to dance and get lost in the groove. “Maria Tambien” sounds like a surf-rock Spaghetti Western soundtrack with a killer beat. Album-standout “Evan Finds the Third Room” invites you to say “yes” to the beat and you’ll find your body unwittingly agreeing. It feels so good, you can’t help it.
Some naysayers may caution against attempting to blend all these influences into one sound, but Khruangbin is a shining example that it can work, and that it works better than you’d ever imagine. Con Todo El Mundo really is for the whole world.
Photo: Khruangbin. Credit Mary Kang.