When Khruangbin released their 2015 debut, The Universe Smiles Upon You, the Houston trio was still relatively unknown. The record’s groovy instrumentals reframe Thai psych jams and surf pop, reveling in a globally inspired paradigm of lush 1970s cool. With their sophomore record, Con Todo El Mundo (released in January via Dead Oceans), the group expands the scope of their sonic explorations to include Middle Eastern, Indian, and Caribbean sounds.
There’s room for commentary about the borderless cultural power of music, especially since the band casting such a wide musical net comes from a border state. For Khruangbin, however, the groove is in the heart.
“We’re a feel band; we all like feel-based stuff,” says bassist Laura Lee. “When you’re at a certain headspace and you’re writing with that feeling, I think it comes out. You see people emotionally dance and it’s powerful, or you see a painting that feels emotional. I think a lot of that is just literally the energy that goes into it.”
That energy manifested itself in more personal ways for Con Todo El Mundo; the title was inspired by Lee’s late grandfather’s response when asked how much he loved her (it translates to “with all the world”). This intimacy is evident in the band’s interplay throughout the record: Drummer Donald Johnson’s steady beats approximate a hip-hop underbelly, while guitarist Mark Speer’s wormy noodling lays down expressive, melodic dialogues over Lee’s punchy, funky bass. It’s a scorching symbiosis that’s equally as affecting on mellow tracks like “Rules”—written in homage to Persian guitarist Kourosh Yaghmaei—and more funked-out jams like “Maria También.”
As much as Khruangbin’s members sound like seasoned purveyors of instrumental Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian compositions, they are admittedly still very much learning as they go. The best part is that they take you along for the ride—when the band recently performed a cover of the song “Geri Dön” in Istanbul, Turkey, they were shocked as the audience erupted into an enormous sing-along. The band was wholly unaware of the popularity of the ’80s tune, written by Sezen Aksu, otherwise known as “the Queen of Turkish pop.”
“It was like ‘Freebird’ or something,” says Johnson. “We didn’t know that this was the jam in Turkey. Hands went up, cell phones went up. It felt like church.”
“It’s really weird, because being from the West and hearing something that we think is super groovy, like, ‘Man, that song is awesome!’ Then you play it for someone who might have grown up hearing that music, and they think it’s as corny as can be!” explains Speer. “Their connotation is, ‘My mom liked this kind of stuff. This is stupid.’”
“The only thing we can take from [songs sung in different languages] is the emotion behind the performance,” says Lee.
“I don’t speak Farsi,” continues Speer, “but I can feel it.”