Album Review: Con Tondo El Mundo by Khruangbin

Mark Speer, Laura Lee and Donald Johnson

It means “airplane.” That’s how Texas based trio Khruangbin defines their Thai band name and with good reason. Anytime you listen to one of their tunes, it’s as if you’re floating in the clouds with euphoric bliss blessing your ears from one canal to the other. Their sophmore album Con Tondo El Mundo officially released this past Friday. The new album is similar to that of their debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, utilizing a tight rhythm section held down by Laura Lee on the bass guitar and Donald Johnson with on the drums. Mark Speer contributes with an extensive repertoire of guitar licks and rifts that add icing to the Khruangbin cake. But aside from the same personnel, Con Tondo El Mundo is different in how it draws its roots and influences, creating a sound that solidifies Khruangbin as one of the up-and-coming bands in the modern music scene.

The trifecta of tracks that open the album are enough to justify this album as one of the top albums for 2018. “Como Me Quieres” starts off the album by hooking you in with a signature Mark Speer guitar rift sprinkled with self-proclaimed Middle Eastern influences. From then on you’re carried on an otherworldly journey spearheaded next by my personal favorite “Lady and Man.” The first half of the song has the guitar and bass guitar “arguing” back and forth with each other, accompanied by the backbeat of the drums that moderate the entire ordeal, with the occasional onomatopoeia completing the duel between the two. The final half of the song is then brought to a mellow conclusion with Laura adding some diction before concluding into the latter half of the trifecta with “Maria Tambien.” The song was released by the band earlier than the other tracks on the album, and for good reason as this encapsulates the Iranian Middle Eastern sound that Khruangbin was going for. From busy guitar rifts, the clapping in the chorus and descending instrumentals in the verses, the song would fit perfectly in any scene that involved old Persian conquests or Middle Eastern adventures.

Not every song on the album has the definitive Middle Eastern influence, however. The middle two tracks, “Como Te Quiero” and “Shades of Man” are solid tracks, but struggle to find their place in Khruangbin’s discography. The structure and chord progression of the songs, in my opinion, sound like they could’ve been slotted onto the tail end of The Universe Smiles Upon You, drawing more roots from Thai Funk than traditional Middle Eastern music. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, but it’s as if the band rehashed some demos from their first album and tossed it into the middle of the second in order to keep in line with their “10 track per album” format. That being said, the last half of the “10 tracks” are as good as the trifecta that started the album off. “Evan Finds the Third Room” is a straight homage to pre-revolution Iran, a time where men and women could equally groove and express themselves without any repercussions.  “A Hymn” is a short interlude akin to an old Middle Eastern lullaby, and “Rules” is a song that can set the groundwork to any meditation session with it’s consistent zen-like properties. The album reaches its conclusion with “Friday Morning,” a 6-minute ending that utilizes tangent harmonics by Laura and Mark by means of both vocals and instruments, with Donald implementing perfectly timed tempo changes with a groovy drum track.

Con Tondo El Mundo isn’t a drastic departure from The Universe Smiles Upon You, as the same signature Khruangbin sound is present in both records. Steady, yet powerful drum grooves lay the foundation while the bass guitar glues the melodic nature storytelling nature of the guitar to the entire musical canvas. To fans of Khruangbin, Con Tondo El Mundo is a very solid follow up to their debut and should make for some memorable live performances. To those who’ve never heard of Khurangbin, Con Tondo El Mundo is the better album to start off with. It takes all the traits that made The Universe Smiles Upon You great, and improves upon them with a unique blend of Middle Eastern music and modern Western funk. If you’re not yet convinced on the Khruangbin hype train, they’re making a trek to their hometown Houston on March 31st at White Oak Music Hall. Give Con Tondo El Mundo a listen beforehand so you can full immerse yourself in the live experience that Khruangbin create.

8/10

 

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