Thai Psych Funk Meets Modern Soul on the Road in Texas
After a lauded national tour back in 2018, Khruangbin and Leon Bridges excitedly took to the studio to write and record “Texas Sun”. The Thai Funk group and the R&B Soul crooner’s music are stylistically different, yet this contrast in sound makes for a fresh and effortlessly cool EP. The Texas-based artists’ collaboration is filled with the trademark grooving rhythms and melodies that Khruangbin are known for, but with Bridges’ inclusion, the record soars to new heights.
The EP opens with the titular “Texas Sun”, that sees Khruangbin joined by aural slide and acoustic guitars that when layered create a very western flavored tune reminiscent of those by Texas blues/country greats or heard in Clint Eastwood films. The rhythm section nods along at a steady pulse, while Bridges’ emotive and smooth voice adds the final touch, taking the track from a wandering collage of sound to a distilled soundscape. Twanging lead guitar riffs exchange with Leon’s soulful lyrics detailing a picturesque drive through his home state. A perfect song for a sunny, relaxing cruise with your mates, amigos, lovers, etc, this opener does a brilliant job setting the tone for the rest of the project.
The psychedelic, freewheeling production on “Midnight” could find its home on any Khruangbin album, but the addition of Bridges’ uncanny ability takes the final result to another level. After romanticizing a sunny Texas day on the opening track, the Khru drives the automobile motif further by putting us in a car once more, this time on a late-night coast. Copacetic and chilled out, Khruangbin’s signature swing and idiosyncratic funk is on full display, with Leon’s singing supported by the band’s soul-inspired backing vocal performance. The instrumental could objectively stand on its own merit, but when paired with Bridges’ cool and charming vocals, it stands out. A tasty solo leads into a smooth send-off, as they move on to intensify the groove with “C – Side,” arguably the most dance-friendly song on the EP.
“C – Side”’s funky bassline, creative percussion, and Hendrix-Esque funk guitar make for one of the catchiest jams Khruangbin has written. Wah wah guitar, cowbell, and a special appearance from the “vibes”, (a rather uncommon jazz instrument) are welcome additions to the Texans’ melting pot of sound. Track 3 pops and pulls like “Midnight”, however, there’s more emphasis on the rhythm section, too keep energy high keep your hips swaying throughout. An effect-drenched instrumental swirls underneath Leon’s vocals and chants like a whirlpool while the song gradually builds in tension. The vibraphone solo sets up the end section where the song finally blossoms into a dancefloor-ready track and comes alive, breathing to life right before the fade out.
“Conversion” acts as the EP closer, slowing the tempo down and letting Bridges deliver his most impressive vocal performance on the project. The band lay down a soft, slow-burning beat that features a gorgeous guitar melody cascaded over by Leon’s vocals. An emotionally charged performance by the singer sees him show off his impressive range, almost overshadowing the band completely and taking center stage. It veers into gospel territory before rounding out with a drum beat and piano entering, showing a preview of this collaboration’s boundless potential. Even with all the varied ideas and styles exhibited here, the collab is able to keep each piece cohesive and smooth right through “Texas Sun”. Though the record’s length leaves you wanting more, the 4 songs showcase these artists’ immense talent as they weave together lush and colorful sounds to soundtrack any occasion.