Khruangbin Hasta El Cielo

[Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories; 2019]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: dub
Others: Scientist, Lee “Scratch” Perry

No topic is ever exhausted. There is always another voice, another way to voice. An iteration might literally arrive on the wispy tail of a reverberation or inspirationally from the ghosts riding that same trail. We wonder, what was its origin? And from where? And/or. In the space of that dash, in one more laterally elliptical, Hasta El Cielo stretches out as/in an unending echo.

This album has multiple and mutable origins. One is Khruangbin’s career-defining 2018 record Con Todo El Mundo. (If you’ve not yet heard that one, please stop reading now, head here, and then return to us after that informative break.) Hasta El Cielo is made up of dub remixes of its precursor’s 10 slow-burning instrumental funk tracks, which forefront a bare-bones setup of drums, bass, electric guitar, and occasional vocals, all awash in the countryside and a host of “world” influences.

Iranian music is a key influence for Con Todo El Mundo, while Thai and other Southeast Asian musics guided their debut release, 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You. But it’s Jamaican dub that exists/persists as an overwhelmingly central authority across all of their works — another form of beginning.

In an interview with 3voor12 Radio, Khruangbin explain how they initially intended these remixes to be released on cassette and only available for purchase at live shows. As guitarist Mark Speer explains, they wanted to make specialized impressions “for the heads.” The project then grew and formalized beyond the band’s initially humble intentions; but even with its current size and scope, it still exists in intimate relation.

The remixes on Hasta El Cielo are not so much tweaked tracks or noodly B-sides as solid reliefs melting into air — sound sculptures in their own right that, déjà vu-like, take the sonic stories of Con Todo El Mundo and spin them out with heavy tongues in traditionally resonant drum and bass-heavy dub fashion. They describe dub as a stylistic “prayer.” They sink deeper into the idea. They use the aesthetic surfaces of dub as conceptual hinges to explore memory, and memories of memories — memories that spin out into spacey, yet still beautiful, noise.

I am especially interested in how they characterize dub legend Scientist’s work — who contributes two of his own remixes to the album — as creating an idea of “frozen time.” Because this is what they have done: cryogenically locked themselves into Con Todo El Mundo as if in a town with 1,000 slowly shifting walls from which they will at some point emerge. They want to stop and re-mesh with the place of their work in space and texture. They want to send an oozing bass riff, a heavy guitar lick, a drum-shivering boom down the plane of Con Todo El Mundo and watch the sound waves merge into that album’s horizon. Their work bounces back to them like a memory with the old details warped and displaced.

As dub creates stripped canvases to then be used to host further expressions, so do these versions. They encourage engagement and further remixing by projecting the past and present into an unknown future. Planes for more tinkering. Plowed fields. Fertile ground. What might grow there?

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