While The Universe Smiles Upon You often slides by, frictionless, on grooves and guitars that sound like they’ve been doused in Vaseline, don’t be tricked for a moment into thinking that it qualifies as easy listening. The Texas and London-based trio’s debut album is a subtle dance, a constellation of small movements and highly nuanced arrangements that unfolds seamlessly, like ripples on the water. Even as it hypnotizes us, slinking forward on the weightlessness of crisp drums and rolling bass figures, Universe reveals tiny thorns and eddies of tension beneath its soothing surface.
Khruangbin have continually pointed towards the explosion of funk music that came out of Thailand in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a major source of inspiration; their most recent EP, History of Flight, was a collection of covers featuring some of their favorite Thai musicians. Yet while Mark Speer’s mercurial guitar tones bear a strong resemblance to albums by Thai forbearers like Dao Bandon and The Impossible, particularly on album opener “Mr. White” and the minor-key lurch of “Balls and Pins,” Khruangbin are interested in much more than simply paying homage.