RECAP: Khruangbin at Brooklyn Bowl New York on February 22

Posted on Thursday February 23rd in

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Khraungbin is a three-piece band from Texas and bills itself as “taking influence from 1960s Thai funk.” It’s an accurate description, but it’s also like describing a Kaleidoscope as an optical instrument that produces an ever-changing viewing pattern and originated in Scotland — hopelessly narrow. No, you tie yourself up in rhetorical knots trying to explain what Khraungbin does. I’ll try it: a fascinating kind of cool built from unctuously groovy bass and drums, cinematically sonic, heavy with psychedelia and elements of 60s pop and surf-rock, and totally mesmerizing.

Greeted by a highly engaged, capacity crowd Wednesday night, guitarist Mark Speer, bassist Laura Lee and drummer Donald Johnson seemed genuinely surprised by the draw — that so many people, so fast, have cottoned on their deceptively simple framework for music that spaces-out plenty, but feels embraceable and crucially, accessible. They proved quickly at Brooklyn Bowl that they can handle bigger, boomier rooms in New York — they hit a sweet spot of just-right, just-shy-of-danceable, just-faster-than-comfortably-lazy tempos whose effects were hypnotic, and stayed there for 90 minutes.

Are these “songs”? They feel more like progressions, some that groove on and peter out, others that build, in an almost-roiling fashion, into a hail of guitar improvisation courtesy of Speer’s cunning manipulation of Telecaster sounds. They do have names — “Dern Kala,” “August Twelve,” the Tarantinoesque outlaw tune “The Infamous Bill” — but they sound more like little worlds than songs, with melodies that crest in waves and guitar tones that whisper, whir, bleat, howl, stab and crunch.

There were some curious asides in what was otherwise an all-Khraungbin originals set, including a version of “Fire Cracker” by Yellow Magic Orchestra, itself a cover of a Martin Denny song, and protracted riffs and teases on the recognizable funk antecedents that inform samples well known to fans of A Tribe Called Quest, Naughty by Nature, Salt ’n’ Pepa, Doug E. Fresh and others. These asides which might feel gimmicky in other circumstances were instead teachable: a Khraungbin show amounts to a travelogue of funk essences, beautifully rendered by a band that’s embraced pie-eyed funk and a lovingly psyched-out view of the world at a level that feels even deeper than foundational.

Words by Chad Berndtson

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