Khruangbin: Hard to Pronounce, Easy to Listen To

There are a number of current artists whose work defies easy categorization, such as England’s Ozric Tentacles, Norway’s Orion’s Belte, and Australia’s Glass Beams.  These bands create music that stems from a wide range of influences, and their music transcends the conventions of genre. One of the best of these groups is the Houston, Texas-based band Khruangbin. Their innovative music is an ethereal, groove-infused mix of soul, funk, psychedelic rock, jazz, trip hop, and dub, among others. The band has collaborated with the likes of Trey Anastasio, Leon Bridges and Paul McCartney, all of whom are avowed fans of their work.

Khruangbin’s lineup features Laura Lee Ochoa on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums, and keyboards. All three members provide vocals. Speer previously played with both Johnson and Ochoa in other groups before they came together to form Khruangbin in 2010. The trio’s undeniable chemistry flourished as they worked on their music in a barn (owned by Speer’s family) located in Burton, Texas, which is where the group recorded their first three albums. Their initial single, “A Calf Born In Winter,” was released in 2014, and was warmly received by discerning music fans. The song was later featured in the 2023 film The Holdovers.

The band’s full-length debut, 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You, showcases their remarkable sound, which not only encompasses soul, jazz, rock, psychedelia, and ambient vibes but includes a touch of Thai funk, a genre inspired by 1960s US and UK rock and soul. The trio listened to cassettes featuring Thai funk artists driving to and from the studio while recording the album. In fact, the group’s name, Khruangbin (which was suggested by Ochoa) is actually a Thai word meaning “airplane.” You can hear, feel and sense the extraordinary bond between these three talented musicians, and immerse yourself in their far-ranging array of influences as you experience tracks like the trippy “Zionsville.”

After the successful release of The Universe Smiles Upon You, Khruangbin toured extensively, opening for acts like Father John Misty and Massive Attack. The band’s onstage look is as offbeat and entrancing as their music, with Ochoa and Speer regularly sporting black wigs and cool outfits while performing. The group’s second full-length release, Con Todo El Mundo, was issued in 2018. This sophomore disc adds a rich vein of Latin and R&B vibes to their already impressive roster of musical reverberations and is displayed on songs like the funky “Maria También” and “Evan Finds The Third Room.”


On their third album, 2020’s Mordechai, a deep Middle Eastern vibe emanates from the mix. While their first two discs leaned largely towards instrumentals, on this record the group’s vocals (especially those of Ochoa) were brought to the forefront. Khruangbin’s lyrical content is expansive, including words in English, Korean, Spanish, Thai and Hungarian. The band continued to tour and appear at music festivals around the world, and collaborated with singer Vieux Farka Touré on Ali, an album of songs by the singer’s father, Malian artist Ali Farka Touré. The group also worked with soul singer Leon Bridges on a pair of outstanding EPs, Texas Sun and Texas Moon, and performed with him on Austin City Limits. 


The band’s latest release, A La Sala, is the group’s first album created outside their barn-based studio. The disc was recorded at Terminal C in Houston, and this amazing record continues the group’s tradition of providing listeners with a unique synthesis of cool vibes, dreamy moods and gorgeous soundscapes. Their outstanding musicianship resonates on tracks like “Juegos Y Nubes” and “A Love International.” Listening to the vibrant music of Khruangbin will inspire you, elevate your mood and stir your soul. Their songs were aptly described by guitarist Speer in an interview with Relix as “Earth Music.” If you’re looking for a truly global, eclectic and spiritual experience, take a deep dive into the transcendent grooves of Khruangbin.

-John Visconti

Photo: Khruangbin, 2019 (Martin Schumann via Wikimedia Commons)

John Visconti is a lifelong music and movies aficionado with wide-ranging tastes, from The British Invasion and Motown, to the blues, a dash of jazz, on through to power pop, funk, retro soul, folk, bubblegum and metal. He digs film noir, screwball comedies, classic B movies, and Toho’s original Godzilla series. In the late 1980s, John was a writer and editor for the KISS fanzine Fire. A friend once called him “the human incarnation of an entertainment encyclopedia.” After long stints in the worlds of publishing and IT, he’s currently working in healthcare. You can check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue at http://jveclectic.blogspot.com.

3 comments on “Khruangbin: Hard to Pronounce, Easy to Listen To

  1. thanks for this, love their eclectic sound

  2. Cool piece and music here, John. It’s really neat the band is lighting up Houston where I grew up and came of age.

    So, the burning question lingers……how DO ya pronounce it? ;}

    • Thanks for the kind words, John. Based on he sources I checked out, it’s pronounced “Krung-bin.” Glad you enjoyed their music!

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