Review: Khruangbin And Leon Bridges ‘Texas Sun’
Words by Cole Costello
Graphic by Press
Leon Bridges is known for a contemporary take on Sam Cooke style ballads. He writes beautiful lyrics which sit upon simple song structures. Khruangbin, in contrast, are a mostly instrumental outfit, one formed around the synthesis of exotic basslines, breezy guitar, and breakbeats. In both cases, it feels like each of these artists’ strengths are an element the other could be missing out on. This alongside their shared Texan heritage, makes their collaboration, at least in theory, perfect.
And with the benefit of hindsight, there was really no way Khruangbin and Leon Bridges were not going to elevate one another. Texas Sun does not disappoint. The title track and opener ‘Texas Sun’ feels like an instant classic. With dusty opening acoustic guitar quickly joined by Mark Speer of Khruangbin’s gleaming mimicry of spaghetti western guitar lines, Leon’s melody blows alongside him with lyrics that capture the memory and nostalgia of sunset drives through wide-open empty spaces. Leon serenades Texas with the intensity of a lover, painting a wonderfully vivid picture as he does.
Something here feels different about the Leon Bridges one might have gotten to know from his solo work. Maybe the backing instrumentation brings something else out of him, maybe it’s just a shift in production, but his delivery feels very natural. If he cared to, it sounds like Bridges could make some compelling folk rocker.
Fading into nothing, the quick kick of Donald Ray “DJ” Johnson Jr.’s drums launch into the groovy ‘Midnight’. Quintessential Khruangbin, ‘Midnight’ features some starkly breezy guitar work by Speer and Laura Lee’s gloriously groovy bass. ‘Midnight’ and the next song, the aptly named ‘C-Side,’ include another exceptional bass effort from Laura. Both feel like more a Khruangbin than Leon Bridges song but that’s not to say Leon’s presence is overshadowed, rather his vocals instill these songs with emotional depth and meaning. The catchy, funky outro of ‘C-Side’ feels like what has been anticipated since the collaboration’s announcement, and these satisfying songs are first-rate examples of how these artists fit together so effortlessly.
Prior to Texas Sun, Khruangbin’s last release was 2019’s Hasta El Cielo, a mostly a dub-remix of 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo. One wonders what could’ve happened if, instead of making a relaxing, funky remix of an already relaxing, funky album, they let someone like Leon Bridges step in and craft some vocal lines and sing over it. If ‘Texas Sun’ represents the fruits of this cooperation, these two middle songs highlight what Leon’s presence really ratchets up the intensity.
Sounding as though it could fit unobtrusively in the middle of Bridge’s 2018 Good Thing, closer ‘Conversion’ may just be the EP’s least inspired song. The bulk of the track is a religious reflection, and it does not bring a lot of musical experimentation to the table. In some ways, the song’s muted quality offers a slightly understated end to the record, which is never a good thing, but here the highs are high enough to keep Texas Sun on the level.
When looking at Khruangbin and Leon Bridges’ recent output, both have made clear strides in terms of quality. Khruangbin’s Hasta El Cielo shows a band bursting with creativity but maybe not knowing quite what to do with it. Leon Bridge’s 2015 hit debut album, Coming Home, begins at almost zero on the experimental music barometer, but in going through some of his non-album singles from recent years one can find new styles and ideas bubbling their way to the surface.
Both Bridges and Khruangbin have been searching for different ways to express themselves. These are two acts that have been looking to push themselves past the boundaries of creativity they could more than easily safely sit within. Both together and apart, Texas Sun proves to its listeners that these artists are crafting a unique space for themselves in modern music.
There is only one real problem with Texas Sun. It ends after just hinting at where this collaboration might go. While the project more than lives up to what could be expected, a listener can’t help but be left with the feeling that Leon Bridges and Khruangbin are capable of more than a twenty-minute EP collecting a 6:45 gospel number and three already released singles. But when one of the worst things to be said is, “Make another one of these,” there probably isn’t a whole lot of negative to say at all. Whatever comes from either next will certainly be stimulating, but another collaboration, most of all, feels like something exceedingly worthwhile.