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Hidden Gems of the NLS Collection: The Music of Khruangbin

Recently, the NLS Music Section acquired several new lessons by Bill Brown. His “by ear” approach to teaching is very popular with our patrons, and we are proud to have over 1,400 of his lessons in our collection. It doesn’t matter whether the music is classic rock, baroque, jazz, Broadway, church hymns, or any other genre, he will teach it on almost any instrument! His lessons are usually based on music that is very familiar. However, our latest acquisitions from Bill Brown introduced me to some incredible new music: the sounds of the Texas-based band Khruangbin.

The music of Khruangbin is mainly instrumental, and is influenced by 1960’s Thai funk. They are a three-piece band, with Laura Lee Ochoa on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald Johnson on drums. Music journalist Andrew Deaver describes Khruangbin: “With a sound that’s built around a stew of funk, psychedelia, soul, surf-rock, dub, folk and global music influences (Thai, Middle Eastern, Pakistan, and West Africa, for starters), the band is tough to categorize, but their music is spacious, accessible and dynamic.”

Khruangbin’s sound evolved from a Gospel tradition. Johnson and Speer originally met in Houston in 2004, playing together in the St John’s Methodist Church gospel band – the same church, incidentally, where Beyoncé grew up singing. Each Sunday, they would perform for around 3,000 churchgoers. In 2007, Speer met Ochoa through mutual friends and taught her how to play bass (she was already an accomplished guitarist and pianist). The three then began meeting for dinner every Tuesday night to talk about music.

The trio rehearsed and recorded in Speer’s remote family barn in the small town of Burton (about a 90-minute drive from Houston). On the drive out, they would listen to cassettes of 60s and 70s Thai funk-rock, which became a big influence on their music (Khruangbin means “engine fly” or “airplane” in Thai). Ochoa refers to the barn as “the fourth member of the band…there’s a resonance in the barn where the barn kind of sings.” Most of the band’s songs come out of improvisation, which suits the live setting more comfortably than a recording studio.

One of the songs of Khruangbin that Bill Brown teaches on bass is “August 10.” The band, describing this song on NPR’s All Songs Considered, stated, “The first song we ever wrote as Khruangbin was a song called ‘August 12,’ off our debut album. It’s a really meaningful song for us, and we wanted something of the spirit of it to come with us into this second album. So we listened to it backwards, learned to play it in reverse, and then added a few new ideas into it that reflected who we are as a band now. We recorded it nearly exactly six years later, and it’s become this connective tissue between the two records, a kind of reminder to us about how far we’ve come together.” The song “August 10” is “August 12” in reverse!

One of the hallmarks of Khruangbin is the way they discover the connective tissue between seemingly distant musical genres. Mark Speer told The Washington Post in 2016, “I was listening to music from west Ireland, which oddly enough has a lot of the same ornamentation as Arabic music,” Speer says. “There’s a lot of these little things that you don’t find in Western European music — you don’t hear these types of trills and ornamentation but you hear it all over really old, traditional Irish music.”

While labeling Khruangbin’s unique sound may prove to be a difficult task, they have shown that it is possible to find your own voice in a noisy world. As bassist Ochoa said recently, “We didn’t have any intention of what we were going to sound like or what kind of band we were going to be.” Perhaps unintentionally, a new sound was created.

If you enjoyed learning about Khruangbin as much as I did, then please enjoy these selections from the NLS Music Collection. You can access many of our materials any time using Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access. To borrow music-related talking books on digital cartridge or hard copies of braille scores, please contact the Music Section either by phone at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]. If you heard something recently that sounded fresh and new, please let us know in the comments below!

Audio

Brown, Bill. August 10: for Bass Guitar. “Enter into the realm of ’world music’ where nice bass riffs still exist! Khruangbin’s Laura Lee deals up some nice rhythmic textures in this smooth ballad and you will want to add every one of these riffs to your inventory of grooves! This lesson begins with a full demonstration of the song and has backing tracks to practice and perform with once you have learned the bass part. The song is taught completely “by ear” using no tab, music or video.”–Publisher’s note. (DBM04312)

____ Dance with the Guitar Man: for Guitar. Bill Brown teaches how to play this rockabilly song in the style of Duane Eddy without the use of music notation. Includes backing tracks. Level 1. (DBM02952)

____ Fun Fun Fun: for Guitar. Made famous by The Beach Boys, Bill Brown teaches how to play Fun Fun Fun without the use of music notation. Cartridge only. (DBM03813)

____ I’m Gonna Love You Too: a Lesson in the Style of Buddy Holly (for guitar). Bill Brown teaches how to play both the acoustic and electric guitar parts to this Buddy Holly rockabilly song without the use of music notation. Level 1. (DBM02946)

____ Pelota: for Bass Guitar. “Khruangbin has definitely brought about a revival of great bass grooves in their unique World-Music style. In this “By Ear” lesson you will learn all of bass riffs for the entire song without music, tab, or video. The lesson includes a full demonstration of the bass part with drums and vocal cues as well as backing tracks to play along with once you have learned the bass part.”–Publisher’s note. (DBM04456)

____ Peter Gunn: A Lesson in the Style of the Ventures (for guitar). Bill Brown teaches how to play both the rhythm and lead guitar to The Ventures version of the Peter Gunn theme music without the use of music notation. The Ventures “surf-rock” sound is an influence on the music of Khruangbin. “Peter Gunn” was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2010.  (DBM02941)

___ Secret Agent Man: for Guitar. Bill Brown teaches how to play Secret Agent Man in the style of The Ventures without the use of music or tabs. (DBM02059)

____ Surfer girl – Fingerstyle Solo: for Guitar. Bill Brown teaches how to play a guitar fingerstyle arrangement of “Surfer Girl” in the style of The Beach Boys without the use of music notation. (DBM04431)

____ Time You and I: for Bass Guitar. “This Khruangbin song is loaded with must-have bass riffs and you will learn them all “By Ear” without music, tab or video. The lesson includes a full demonstration of the bass part with drums and vocal cues as well as backing tracks to play along with once you have learned the bass part.” (DBM04457)

____ Wipe out: for Guitar. Bill Brown teaches how to play “Wipe Out” in the style of The Ventures without the use of music notation. This recording has three versions of the backing tracks. Cartridge only. (DBM03781)

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