“DD Review: Khruangbin – A La Sala.”

Score: 10/10

According to Wikipedia, “A la sala” is a Spanish phrase that Khruangbing bassist/vocalist Laura Lee would employ in her youth when trying to gather everyone into the living room. From this, we may be left, in our more licentious moments, to induce this album to be somewhat of a “crossing the Rubicon” signpost for Khruangbin — their coming of age LP, rendered with such confidence and authority as to imbue the intimacy of a living room. 

Well, on the off chance that anybody thinks Khruangbin still has anything to prove, this concept actually does hold up pretty well, for A La Sala, in all facets. It seems like a coming of age for the band, an album that fans will look to as their strongest, and that even the band, themselves, will refer to, as a sort of blueprint for their own identity, moving forward. In full force is the founding, vaguely Hispanic instrumental rock prevalent in their early days (“Fifteen Fifty-Three”; “Pon Pon”) and a certain tense foray into minimalism, or buffer track (“Farolim de Felgueiras”), but our real early Christmas present is “May Ninth.” Pulling a page, perhaps, out of the Cigarettes after Sex playbook (their fellow Texans, interestingly enough), the band apparently sharpen their pop chops a little bit and construct a stately, gorgeous little love song to spring and the seasonal warming of the weather. 

Now, it’s perfectly possible that Ali, their last release, a collaboration with Malian singer and composer Vieux Farka Toure, will go down as the best album Khruangbin ever did. It was a rhythmic, celestial masterpiece to deliver us to magnanimous, world-leaning heights. Well, for better or worse, A La Sala finds the trio paring itself down to just that, once again, for a prototypical Khruangbin projects that finds the typically pristine, operation-room-clean production providing the ideal lens for the band’s refined approach to rhythm and chord progression. Laura Lee finds an interesting role in the group, too, for her duality as canary-like singer and also purveyor of these simple, hypnotic bass riffs that always seem timely and to stand as more than the sum of their parts. Indeed, the band employ the same producer, fellow Houstonian Steven Christensen, for A La Sala, that they have for all their prior releases, and the result gives the album a kind of selfsame distinction, like a confidence in their own sound and m.o., more so than any instance of lack of new direction or vision. 

Now, truth be told, I don’t give out “9.8” ratings, and I am doing a little bit of rounding-up, here. The reasons for this, though, have less to do with artistic valor and fructified ideas and more with the morality of squeezing all of these ideas onto one album. The final two tracks, the precociously tense and uneasy “A Love International” and the heartbreakingly gentle and beautiful “Les Petits Gris”; could be longer than they are, with the production fade-out of the former almost like a criminal amputation of a sovereign musical development: jamming. Well, this gives room for their live show to breathe, then, doesn’t it? Better not give ’em the opening slot. 


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