Khruangbin and Leon Bridges' Southern Charm Never Wanes on 'Texas Moon'

BY Alan RantaPublished Feb 17, 2022

Texas is arguably best known for country music, but the Lone Star State has produced major contributors to a kaleidoscope of genres. It's a big state, and they do things big there. Consider the impact Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightnin' Hopkins had on blues, or that which the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Red Krayola had on psychedelic rock, or that of the Geto Boys and DJ Screw on hip-hop. Khruangbin and Leon Bridges have each added to that rich tapestry as well.
Khruangbin is the Houston-based trio of Laura Lee, Mark Speer and Donald "DJ" Johnson. Lee and Speer got the inspiration to start a band while opening for Bonobo as members of Yppah's touring band. Their name was taken from the Thai word for "aeroplane," and it suits their worldly psychedelic sound. Khruangbin's first three studio albums — 2015's The Universe Smiles Upon You, 2018's Con Todo el Mundo and 2020's Mordechai — evoked everything from surf, funk and dub to Spanish, Middle Eastern, Korean, West African and Thai music. Mordechai was a top ten charting record in a half-dozen countries, so Khruangbin are literally all over the place.
Originally from Atlanta, Leon Bridges subsequently relocated to Fort Worth, and took the world by storm with his 2015 debut Coming Home. That record's retro-soul was particularly indebted to Sam Cooke, since Cooke appears in almost every piece of text written about it (including this). He opened his R&B style up a bit more with 2018's Good Thing, hosting hints of funk, disco, pop and hip-hop more in line with Prince and Ginuwine, while 2021's Gold-Diggers Sound refined more Afrobeat, jazz and, indeed, country vibes during a series of midnight jam sessions in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
At a similar point in their simultaneous ascensions, Khruangbin and Bridges met while touring for their respective sophomore albums in 2018. Though the paths they walked to get there were markedly different as a classic major label soul singer and a mostly-instrumental cosmic indie band, they quickly bonded over their mutual influences from the Texas music scene. Even though Texas Moon is only their second EP, following 2020's Texas Sun, it sounds like they have been playing together all their lives.
Bridges usually works on big studio albums with a lot of producers, tasked to polish his sound in certain ways. With Khruangbin, he is free to just be, and that's how an unforgettable moment like "B-Side" happens. "B-Side" was actually one of the first songs they collectively worked on in the same room, and it's far too easy to picture the hazy Get Back rehearsal setting as they hummed and noodled toward the song's genesis. Instantly intoxicating, the song feels somewhere between upbeat Jimmy Cliff or laidback Kiki Gyan with its prickly strummed guitar, dubby bassline, simmering drums, punctuating organ, daffy percussion and Bridges' buttery, lovelorn orations.
Up to Con Todo el Mundo, Khruangbin tended to use vocals as more of a textural element, burying harmonies in the mix. Working with a proper lead vocalist inspired them to be more vocally present on Mordechai, and you can see hints of that growing confidence even between Texas Sun and Moon. Without sounding overworked, "Doris" comes off like Isaac Hayes soul-searching in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at midnight due to its soulful callback chorus, reverb-drenched wah-wah guitar, sparse drums and deeply impactful lyrics about Bridges' dearly departed grandmother.
Every track on Texas Moon is a moment of catharsis, delivered with as much swagger as spirituality. Vibing like a Velvet Underground raga with a dab of "The End" by the Doors, "Father Father" melds a tripping guitar line, lethargic bass line, and meditative vibrations of what sounds like a calm breeze blowing through a wind chime with a plaintive gospel refrain that reminds a broken man of God's love. They draw from all the people, places and things that inspire them, but Khruangbin and Leon Bridges make Texas music, and it's everything.
(Dead Oceans)

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