Khruangbin Credit: Courtesy the Artist

If you’ve ever wondered what Motown would sound like if it had been born not in Detroit but on the streets of Karachi or Kingston or in the surf dens of late-60s southern California, you might like Houston collective Khruangbin. On their new third album, Mordechai, bassist Laura Lee Ochoa, guitarist Mark Speer, and drummer DJ Johnson (their band name is the Thai word for airplane, which directly translates to “engine fly”) bank the soul-infused psychedelia and transnational rhythms of Khruangbin’s previous efforts in favor of an unrushed but risk-taking approach, which uses more of Ochoa’s powerfully reflective lyrics. The band developed much of the material on the album over three years of constant touring, before hunkering down to record in a studio they built in a converted barn between Houston and Austin. Jettisoning the 60s Thai pop of their 2015 debut, The Universe Smiles Upon You, and the Middle Eastern influences of 2018’s Con Todo el Mundo, the band evolve their gritty, sophisticated sound with dub- and soul-influenced tempos and a mashup of funky grooves, jazzy riffs, sweet R&B, surf rock, and pan-global flavors. Drawing on influences that make Khruangbin close neighbors to the likes of Roy Ayers, Bebel Gilberto, Thievery Corporation, and Allah-Las, Mordechai picks up where the band left off on their recent collaborative EP with soul singer Leon Bridges, Texas Sun—except this time Khruangbin provide the vocals. Propelled by bouncy wah-wah guitar and hip-hop beats, the catchy “Time (You & I)” drips with sunshine and cool breezes. It’s a serious contender for song of the summer—if the Beastie Boys had recorded “Hey Ladies” in the mid-1970s, it would’ve sounded like this. “Mother Bird Father Bird” and “One to Remember” provide some chill, the Stax-tinged “If There Is No Question” brings Memphis soul to Houston, and the hand-clap-heavy “Pelota” finishes the album with aplomb. Finely polished and stylishly executed, Mordechai is a deep album whose undulating rhythms and expansive sonic tapestries make for irresistible morsels of spicy pop goodness.   v