Khruangbin brings the mellow funk with “Con Todo El Mundo”

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Con Todo El Mundo CA
(The cover art for “Con Todo El Mundo,” Khruangbin’s new album. Courtesy of their Bandcamp page.)

Khruangbin is a damn cool band and they prove it with their new album “Con Todo El Mundo.” This Texas outfit makes a very nice fusion of funk and classic ’60’s psychedelic music that usually feels smooth, interesting, and pretty effortless. They take inspiration from funk and Thai psychedelic rock and funk cassette tapes from the ’60’s and ’70’s and got their start practicing in a Texas barn and named their album after an exchange between the bassist and her grandpa. Her grandpa would ask “Cómo me quieres?” (“How much do you love me?”) and would only accept “Con todo el mundo.” (“With all the world”) as an answer.

Often, when a band has these little quirks you can’t really hear them in the music. In Khruangbin’s case, the personalities and influences behind the name bleed into the music. This band has an odd mix of Southwestern vibes, ’60’s psychedelic tropes, and free-wheeling Thai-styled strings that could only come from their unique musical background.

“Con Todo El Mundo” definitely showcases a lot of Khruangbin’s strengths. The whole album feels very chill but also very fun. There’s a sense of levity and joy to the relaxed vibe that comes across over a lot of songs. The album splits between the groovier, funkier songs (“Maria También,” “Lady and Man,” “Evan Finds the Third Room,” “Shades of Man”) and the slower, smoother ones (“Cómo Me Quieres,” “August 10,” “Cómo Te Quiero,” “Friday Morning”).

My main complaint about “Con Todo El Mundo” is that the funkier tracks felt strikingly better than the slower tracks. I had trouble remembering a lot of the more downtempo tracks while almost all of the more energetic, funky ones stuck with me.

Some of that comes from my preference as a listener that prefers funky, exciting tracks. Some of it comes from the fact that Khruangbin’s funkier tracks have so much more going on in them than the slow songs and it often makes them feel more entertaining and smooth than their slow counterparts. The result is the slow songs feel lazier in comparison. “Maria También” and “August 10” make for a great comparison point.

“Maria También” has a striking rhythm made up of all sorts of unique percussions including clapping, bells, shakers, maybe a washboard, spooky keys, and a really incredible guitar dynamic. This song doesn’t just do a lot, it moves so fluidly that it’s easy to miss how much it does. It never stays still, never rests on one rhythm but it still feels relaxing, smooth, and never jarring.

“August 10” follows it up and does have a nice beat. It uses some interesting percussions in its own right and the bass and guitar have nice complementing rhythms. Still, it never moves like “Maria También.” The guitar part changes up a lot and prevents the song from being boring but the backing rhythms stay mostly the same and there’s not much meat to the song. It’s a bit disappointing to hear after all the movement that goes on “Maria También.”

Even the weak songs on “Con Todo El Mundo” are not bad songs. They frustrate me a bit not because they sound bad but because some tracks on the album make me expect so much from Khruangbin and the slower songs on the album don’t quite deliver.

Some songs, like “Cómo Te Quiero,” even feel skippable to me. The guitar is interesting and the mood the song creates is super rich but Khruangbin sacrifices so much when they don’t have to. The percussions, the bass, and the vocals in “Cómo Te Quiero” all feel pretty dull – – sacrificed to create a mood that the funkier tracks have too.

Not two songs later Khruangbin proves they don’t need to make boring instrumentation to make a nice mellow track. “Evan Finds the Third Room” is more interesting than “Cómo Te Quiero” on pretty much every account and has a relaxed vibe all of its own. “Evan Finds the Third Room” has a simple bass line that feels interesting because it shifts pitch and moves. It even experiments with incredibly delightful, flirty, breathy 60’s hippie vocals that parody a phone menu (“If you’d like to say hello/ Press one / hello hello”).

Everything about the funkier tracks pop so much more than the slower ones that it becomes hard to ignore. The slight gain in mellowness the slow songs provide does not feel worth losing all the energy and interesting rhythms the funky tracks have. That said, the lacking slow songs are my main complaint an album that has a lot worth praising.

The instrumentation on “Con Todo El Mundo” has a great Southwestern touch to it with tons of maracas and folksier instruments that fit Khruangbin’s style perfectly. The occasional vocals do a lot to bring humor and soul to the album. Songs don’t overstay their welcome and some slow songs – – like “A Hymn” and “Rules” – – have interesting backbeats that make them near as good as the funkier tracks. The way the guitar works – almost freestyling rhythms – is really nice. It’s a refreshing take on a lead guitar rhythm.

“Con Todo El Mundo” captures a mood and aesthetic better than most albums in 2018 will. Khruangbin knows what they are and get better at expressing it with each album. What they are is at once hard to define but easy to understand. It’s a unique take on 60’s psychedelic music, global funk trends, and the music of the American Southwest that’s definitely worth listening to.

8/10

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