Is it just the Lemon Tag talking or do both of these acts call to me, beckoning a thorough investigation of their working parts so that I can properly enjoy the gumbo of Khruangbin and Leon Bridges’ Texas Sun and newly released Texas Moon EPs?
by Marshall Bowden
What makes dubby Texas psychedelic Thai/surf rock band Khruangbin and so-called retro soulster Leon Bridges such perfect partners when it comes to crafting music together that is neither psychedelic rock nor soul but some groovy cauldron brew that illuminates the music of both contributors while it gives listeners a whole new perspective to explore? Is it just the Lemon Tag talking or do both of these acts call to me, beckoning a thorough investigation of their working parts so that I can properly enjoy the gumbo of Khruangbin and Leon Bridges’ Texas Sun and newly released Texas Moon EPs?
Both acts started up under the blazing Texas sun releasing debut records in 2015. Why 2015? Don’t know, but interestingly the year was some kind of tipping point in American culture and the world in general. Khruangbin record their first album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, in their rehearsal barn in Burton, Texas, influenced by Thai cassettes from the 60s and 70s as well as East Asian pop compilations and surf rock. Leon Bridges cuts his first record, Coming Home, for Columbia Records, in the image of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, but with the added attraction of recording new material that matches those icons in providing raw material for an outstanding vocalist.
Both artists reconvene in 2018: Khruangbin with Con Todo El Mundo, inspired by funk and soul from the Middle East, particularly Iran. Bridges records Good Thing, on which he still retains a ‘retro’ tag but significantly expands the influences he shows, sometimes reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, at others funky ’80s dance music. Once again, he shows us who his influences are without blatantly imitating them, and midway through listening to this album I realized that it is because Leon Bridges can do it all that he can be easily taken for granted, the same way an artist like Lenny Kravitz has been taken for granted as a ‘retro’ artist when the only thing truly ‘retro’ about him is his commitment to creating quality music.
In 2019 Khruangbin and Bridges got together to record in what seems like an almost fated situation. Khruangbin had been working on their album Mordechai, which would be released in 2020, and they had been working with more vocals, using all three members of the band to create some pieces that were more like songs sometimes, and more structured than their typical dubby jams. In addition, there is an undercurrent of soul to their music, which Bridges compliments and highlights. With Khruangbin as his backing band, it becomes crystal clear that Bridges was never a ‘retro’ singer, he is in fact the embodiment of real soul music deeply ingrained in a modern sound.
That first EP was entitled Texas Sun, and it was an eye-opener for listeners of both artists. Hearing their collaborations for the first time, as I am right now, is like hearing a release from a long lost band that makes me wonder ‘where has this record been hiding for my entire adult life?’ Robert Baird, commenting at Qobuzz, says “this is a low key but promising collaboration that begs the question, why just an EP?’ Why indeed, as the musicians themselves must have realized, reconvening in 2022 for the release of Texas Moon, a counterpoint of sorts to the first recording.
First, though, came the release of Bridges’ third album, Gold-Diggers Sound, an album where he is not doing any kind of retro bag at all. Bridges has found a way to synthesize his classic soul voice and bring his influences to the smooth world of modern soul and R&B. He’s keeping pretty fast company on the opening track, ‘Born Again,’ which sounds as much like a mission statement as anything else, with Robert Glasper playing and producing a track that sounds as fresh as today’s creme brulee. And sometimes his Texas comes out, gotta be, and it’s more clear after hearing Bridges with Khruangbin.
So, coming back around to the newly released Texas Moon, what these musicians have in common is an interest in sounds from other places and other eras that they connect with and try to share with others. They are both artists whose creation is bound up with a certain act of curation. Take the opening track, “Doris” with its cinematic feel and its vocal story line that is based on Bridges’ father’s emotions at the death of his mother–it’s got that five AM harsh winter city light, that bright light in which things are heartbreaking, things can’t be fixed…but our reaction to things can be controlled. We get to hear Bridges’ vocal control, the things that he learned about singing by studying Otis and Sam and Marvin and Curtis and now applies to his own singing in a unique setting.
Texas Moon is all midnight rides and pre-dawn truth bombs, like the sounds from a car radio blasting some interplanetary sounds from so far away…is it that we never heard this before or that we have always heard it? I used to wonder when I was a kid if you could hear ’50s music if you turned on the radio of a vintage car. Not really wonder, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind that it wasn’t true, but believing that maybe it could happen because, you know, the radio is magic and turn up your radio and let me hear the song and also when you get me on your wavelength, and I’ve got the AM/RADIO ON!
I guarantee you that if you combine the Texas Sun and Texas Moon EPs into one album, sequenced however you like, you will have one hell of album, and you won’t even have to buy a $200 player in order to hear it. In fact, you can download both EPs and everything by Khruangbin at Bandcamp.