Khruangbin craft atmosphere music that never fades into the background, like some endless curl of smoke that keeps pluming upward. Sprinkled with snippets of spoken word, faint vocal melodies, and ranging and impeccably performed guitar solos, the whole of their second record, Con Todo El Mundo is, in effect, a long and pleasant head nod that seems to hang between continents and eras. The group—whose name is a transliteration of the Thai word for “airplane”—elicits the same eclectic enjoyment of any number of artists that came of age around the turn of the century, from the laid-back trip-hop feel of Kruder & Dorfmeister to dub-jammy Thievery Corporation: Ethereal instrumental music that might be described as “world” as shorthand for its range of melody, rhythm, and overall vibe. But the Houston-based instrumental trio makes music that’s a little more dusty, frayed around the edges, and personal.
Though clearly informed by psychedelic rock, the primary influence that fueled their 2015 debut, The Universe Smiles Upon You, was Thai funk, music that bassist Laura Lee and guitarist Mark Speer found by scouring the Thai music blog, Monrakplengthai. Speer was in a gospel band with hip-hop producer and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson, who became the third member, adding the more influences to the blend, and plenty of breakbeats. But Con Todo El Mundo broadens the group’s sound, maintaining the funk but also adding bits and pieces of Caribbean, Indian, and Middle Eastern music. Iran is the obvious touchstone in “Maria También,” whose video directly addresses women’s rights in that country. Throw in a few retro surf riffs and whispered vocal lines and you’ve got an aesthetic that feels at home at any beach or desert in the world.
From the laidback first few seconds of guitar, bass, and organ that begins “Cómo Me Quieres” (“How do you love me?” )—the question answered by the album’s title Con Todo El Mundo (“With all the world”)—it’s clear that this music might be the perfect accompaniment to just about any somewhat passive activity. Cooking? Studying? Walking? Riding the bus? Khruangbin have your back. Need to speed it up a little? Skip to the funky, zouk-styled bounce of “Evan Finds the Third Room.” Relaxing around the house on a Sunday afternoon? Try the loping slowness of “A Hymn.” Every track is profoundly pleasant and, at times, even danceable, in a crunchy kind of way.
Perhaps this is music for the Spotify era; a flowchart of sounds spawned from a range of music connected by the wonders of algorithmic technology. Describing how musical influence can be found anywhere, drummer Johnson describes Shazaming tunes in his local pho restaurant, and the band also offers a curated Spotify playlists for listeners. Each one contains music that influenced the band while recording and allows the playlist to be tailored to the length of an airplane journey and tweaked according to the mood. It may read like a slight to say that Con Todo El Mundo sounds like the result of an algorithm, but it’s an algorithm that reflects the way music is now consumed. Every week listeners “discover” new rhythms catered to an activity or previous selections. But it also allows, maybe, just maybe, for what was once called “world music” to slide into these shuffled, technologically selected playlists. Khruangbin’s takes this new mode of listening and injects its own singular and developing personality into the playlisting of modern music.