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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.

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Khruangbin - Hasta el Cielo Music Album Reviews

An album’s worth of dub versions of last year’s Con Todo El Mundo offer playful, if inessential, tweaks to the Houston band’s psych-funk sound.

Khruangbin are a conundrum. The Houston band with a Thai name has skillfully showcased a crate digger’s approach to global sounds, setting heads nodding by homing in on southeast Asian funk (2015 debut The Universe Smiles Upon You) before widening out into styles from Iran and the French Antilles (last year’s Con Todo El Mundo). At the same time, despite Khruangbin’s globe-trotting narrative, their more obvious sonic touchstones are among American music’s most heavily sampled, whether the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark” or the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.” Melded together, the group’s low-slung psych-funk threatens to turn into a Spotify chill-playlist slurry: Notice how, although Khruangbin’s music actually has occasional subdued vocals, many publications, including Pitchfork, have described them as “instrumental.” More and more people are listening to Khruangbin, but how many are really listening?



Hasta El Cielo, a dub version of Con Todo El Mundo, seems unlikely to settle many debates. Traces of the Jamaican dub reggae tradition are already evident on the original album in Khruangbin bassist Laura Lee’s deep rumbles and drummer Donald Johnson’s cavernous breakbeats, filled out by guitarist Mark Speer’s balmy spaghetti-western brambles and, yes, sometimes Lee’s and Speer’s ghostly vocals. In fact, Kruanghbin have released a handful of dub remixes as B-sides going back a few years now, and Lee even purportedly learned the bass listening to Scientist’s dub touchstone Scientist Wins the World Cup. There’s also a decent precedent for non-Jamaican artists issuing dub versions of their albums, from Massive Attack to Bill Callahan and Franz Ferdinand. Khruangbin’s effort succeeds in subtly making a mellow record even more mellow. But it also feels like an album-length equivalent of a B-side.

The strongest cuts on Con Todo El Mundo are also the standouts on Hasta El Cielo, where they’re run through the usual dub effects: echo, flange, drop-outs, and more. The “Apache”-based “Maria También” still sounds urgent when it’s warped and hollowed into “Mary Always.” The disco-tinged “Evan Finds the Third Room” basks warmly in a world of echo as the dub version “A La Sala,” with a detached vocal cry of “yes” now more starkly positioned in the foreground, ambiguous as a Mona Lisa smile. Attentive listeners may enjoy flipping between the two albums to notice such little, nuanced differences. For dub devotees, the record ends with two additional tracks processed by Scientist himself, lathering extra atmosphere onto “Rules” and “Cómo Te Quiero.” But the sequencing does him no favors, as other, slightly varying dub versions of the same two tracks appear earlier on the album, as “Order of Operations” and “How I Love,” respectively. A better idea for an album might have been to let Scientist just do the whole thing.

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As it is, little of Hasta El Cielo sticks. The wobbly instrumental interplay and dub-standard FX of “Sunny’s Vision” (“Shades of Man” on Con Todo El Mundo) or “Four of Five” (née “August 10”) are never less than pleasant in the background. But Khruangbin seem capable of more. Maybe, for a band that recently covered Warren G and ODB at Coachella—and, full disclosure, will be playing at this month’s Pitchfork Music Festival—that “more” is merely a future as a crowd-pleasing live act. But late last year, Khruangbin released a dreamy cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here.” Conceptually inspired and sublimely executed, this worldly trio’s take on a homely holiday chestnut was a stunning indication that for all Khruangbin’s savvy as curators, they might have it in them to someday create something of their own with comparable staying power. By comparison, Hasta El Cielo is so laid-back that it’s almost inert. Inevitably, Khruangbin’s “Christmas Time Is Here” single also included a dub version—as a B-side.


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