Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Donate today to support the journalism you rely on!

Khruangbin is out with their first solo album since 2020

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Houston trio Khruangbin has a new album out today. For years, they've been collaborating with different singers, but the eclectic band is going back to the building blocks of their sound: instrumental melodies. NPR's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento reports.

ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO, BYLINE: Khruangbin usually records at a barn near Houston, Texas. You can often hear lots of nature sounds on their albums, but for "A LA SALA," their new project, they were in a quiet studio, so they asked their engineer to try something.

LAURA LEE: We actually had him pumping, like, cricket sounds and bird sounds into our ears.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: That's bass player Laura Lee.

LEE: They provide a scenery that you don't necessarily want to play over. Like, you're playing a certain way because you're playing with the birds, you're almost interacting with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "FIFTEEN FIFTY-THREE")

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: This ambient approach is at the heart of "A LA SALA," an immersive album that weaves through funk, soul and jazz. The band's members say it's a return to their essence, which, they stress, is based on their tight-knit bond. Here's drummer DJ Johnson.

DJ JOHNSON: Long story short, we were just 3 friends hanging out every week on Tuesdays at a local pub in Houston. It blossomed into a band.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "MAY NINTH")

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Just 3 friends who regularly sell out major venues and headline festivals around the world. But the sound is only part of their appeal. Khruangbin's members are also known for creating characters onstage. Laura Lee and guitarist Mark Speer both wear wigs. Johnson says that's for a specific reason.

JOHNSON: When you start something new, you want to kind of shed those expectations of what it's going to sound like, so people kind of don't know who you are. And it's not like they're looking at the stage and saying, oh, that's that guy from that other band. We know what this is already.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: But Johnson says he himself didn't feel the same need.

JOHNSON: In the live music scene, nobody knew who I was. I was just a Black guy on drums in some weird band with people with weird haircuts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME (YOU AND I)")

KHRUANGBIN: (Singing) That's life. If we had more time, we could live forever. Just you and I, we could be together.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: He still dresses to match the music.

JOHNSON: Big Stetson hats, big chains, really big ornamentation.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Their last solo album, "Mordechai", leaned heavily into disco and dance. "A LA SALA" is much more laid back. On this album, the band members say they rediscovered their dynamic as a trio. On the song "Pon Pon..." Bon...

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN SONG, "PON PON")

LEE: I forgot why, but I was counting out loud, probably just to keep my own time. In the studio, I was - no, DJ is shaking his head at me.

JOHNSON: Laura Lee was counting to keep time for me...

LEE: Oh.

JOHNSON: ...Because I couldn't count. I was asked to play some stuff that I was not comfortable with, which is a drum solo. I was like, I don't do drum solos. That's not my thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PON PON")

KHRUANGBIN: (Non-English language spoken).

JOHNSON: When you muted it and it went away, it was like, no, put the counting back in. It was good. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PON PON")

KHRUANGBIN: (Non-English language spoken).

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Lee says she hopes "A LA SALA" takes listeners on a journey, like it did for her.

LEE: I feel like this album took me home - and the home that, like, Mark and DJ and I built.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "A LOVE INTERNATIONAL")

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: In the barn or in the studio. Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "A LOVE INTERNATIONAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.