Photo: Andrew Cotterill
We live during an extraordinary period of globalization – and music above all else is changing with the times. The advent of digital service providers like Spotify has given the general public the ability to access literally millions of songs from all over the world in less time than it takes to pour a bowl of cereal. As a result, we’ve seen a recent movement in contemporary music of drawing influence from cultures far and wide. No band represents this development quite like Khruangbin. Known for taking inspiration for their sound from the likes of Thailand, Spain, and the Middle East, the group’s third album and latest release Hasta el Cielo shows that globalization can breathe new life into your music library.
Interestingly, Hasta el Cielo (Spanish for “Up to Heaven”) eschews language in its embrace of global influence, with Khruangbin opting for an entirely instrumental album. However, the band’s international inspiration is abundantly clear via the instrumentation, even if the exact origins of the sounds are not. Sonorous hand percussion that sounds as if it has Afro-Caribbean roots defines tracks like “The Red Book” and “Four of Five,” whereas the opening track “With All the World” features haunting string ornamentation that could easily derive from Arab music. While lyrics often serve to connect the listener to the artist, the lack of words on Hasta el Cielo allows one track to flow into the next, seamlessly blending a grab bag of influences into one cohesive art piece.
There’s an argument to be made that the choice to renounce lyrics is even a little political in that it implies we do not need to share a language to appreciate and learn from different cultures. While this is purely speculation, Khruangbin has certainly not shied away from making political statements via their craft in the past; the three-piece group covered Iranian artist Googoosh’s song “Na Be Ham Nemiresim” for the compilation album Artists Rise Against Islamaphobia in addition to creating a Tehran-specific playlist and other international city-specific playlists on Spotify.
Whatever your takeaway on Khruangbin’s unorthodox style, there’s no denying that the band’s latest album is a prolific snapshot of the moment music is experiencing in a globalizing world. So sit back, turn down the lights, and contemplate the times while you bathe in Hasta el Cielo’s sound.