Album Reviews

Khruangbin – A La Sala

(Dead Oceans) UK release date: 5 April 2024

The moods, the vibes, the tones, the feelings, the joy and catharsis are as strong now as they’ve ever been

Khruangbin - A La Sala Though it’s Texas outfit Khruangbin’s fourth studio album, A La Sala (“To the Room” in Spanish) is actually nearer to their 30th release – despite them only being a band since 2009ish. Their epic catalogue also includes a pair of superb EPs with Leon Bridges (Texas Sun and Texas Moon), a dub remix album, a standard remix album, a collaborative masterpiece (2022’s Ali, a collection of songs by Mali legend Ali Farka Touré, performed with his son Vieux Farka Touré) and a range of live albums.

However, despite the immense length of their collected material, there’s very little depth (for better or worse). Their style is so instantly recognisable, so distinctively Khruangbin that many of their formative influences might appear to actually be them to those who don’t know any better. That sound – a blend of Thai funk (coming mostly from Mark Speer’s guitar), dub (especially in Laura Lee’s thick and rich bass sound), exotica, lounge, and Melody Nelson-era Serge Gainsbourg – has been so constant because it’s just so beautiful. If it ain’t broke…

Happily, A La Sala is just another Khruangbin album. It grooves and sways, rolls and rocks against the metronomic beats of Khruangbin’s secret weapon Donald Johnson (DJ to his mates) throughout its entire running time. Opener Fifteen Fifty-Three is classic Khruangbin, with a steady rhythm and gently rolling guitar that manages to evoke both Eastern folk and Clint Eastwood Westerns in its Ennio Morricone twangs. May Ninth is even more relaxed – a soothing and sedate balm for the soul. The cool, almost ghostly vocals only add to the ethereal atmosphere.

Ada Jean ramps up the guitar and adds some subtle keyboards to the mix, before Farolim de Felguieras takes things down to the slowest, most hypnotic level to that point on the album. Its combination of solo guitar against some sympathetic keyboard makes a massive impression considering it’s only two minutes long. Pon Pón is lively, with a rubbery rhythm, and the newfound sense of energy carries through into the sensual, raunchy Todavía Viva, which has a wonderful bass line and a couple of Gainsbourg-esque touches (the whispered vocals and the swelling, synthesised string sounds).

Elsewhere, Juegos y Nubes actually threatens to ‘rock’ when it opens, before it settles for ‘roll’. The true highlight of the album comes in the position only a true gem can occupy – the penultimate track. A Love International is so effortlessly timeless that it seems completely unlike anything they’ve done before. Laura Lee’s disco bass has an undeniable sense of forward momentum that Khruangbin’s critics often accuse them of being unable to conjure. It’s magical.

Of course, the phrase A La Sala isn’t new to fans of the band, who will recognise it from their dub album Hasta El Cielo, and neither are any of the flavours or any of the ideas here – but that’s not the point. Khruangbin don’t have a story to tell. Their albums don’t have any kind of overarching theme or narrative. The lyrics, when they appear, are primarily functional. But the moods, the vibes, the tones, the feelings, the joy and catharsis are as strong now as they’ve ever been. A La Sala succeeds in the way that a good AC/DC album does: more of the same, done well.

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