ALBUM REVIEW: Khruangbin, Leon Bridges prove opposites attract on ‘Texas Sun’

Texas is the second-biggest state in the Union – home to 29 million people spread over 268,581 square miles. Its geography is as varied as the state is large, and its musicians cover equally broad sonic terrain, with many sharing a kind of unquantifiable, laidback aesthetic that bridges eras and genres.

At first glance, Houston’s Khruangbin and Fort Worth’s Leon Bridges seem like unlikely collaborators: while each has enjoyed a similar upward trajectory in recent years, their takes on throwback sounds can feel a bit incongruous – Khruangbin playing a spacious, instrumental blend of Southeast Asia-influenced funk, psych rock, and surf music; Bridges exploring different shades of R&B. But a 2018 tour together yielded a friendship, then a tentative one-song collaboration that proved surprisingly fruitful. Eventually, the positive momentum resulted in a EP, Texas Sun – four songs over 21 minutes that unfold like a leisurely drive towards an endless horizon.

Like any good collaboration, Texas Sun forces its creators outside of their comfort zones in ways that augment each other’s strengths. Khruangbin had never worked with a vocalist before Bridges, but the record bodes well for future work as a backing band – their feel for a groove and knack for swirling psychedelia is never intrusive but hardly slight. Subtle details make a difference throughout – the lonely, echoing pedal steel on “Texas Sun;” the hand percussion, soft-rock synths, and backing vocals on “Midnight;” the vibraphone-driven breakdown on “C-Side;” the swelling atmospheres and reverb-soaked barroom piano on closer “Conversion.”

Likewise, Bridges benefits from the expanded sonic palette, branching out from Coming Home and Good Thing’s more overt retroisms towards somewhere more interesting. His voice is in its reliably excellent form, tackling bits of country, soul, funk, and gospel with trademark acuity, but the new backdrops force him into unfamiliar places. Khruangbin functions as a kind of high desert Funk Brothers to Bridges’ Marvin Gaye – Texas Sun has the relaxed, warm feel of What’s Going On, if its players were enjoying a mellow LSD trip.

By virtue of its EP status, the songs on Texas Sun ultimately seem destined to be playlist fodder and future fan-favorite setlist choices. While it may not move the needle commercially to the extent of an album, both Khruangbin and Leon Bridges benefit artistically from the collaboration. As each continues to grow in stature, with the latter moving closer to the mainstream with each release, Texas Sun shows an intriguing path forward (should they choose to follow it): globetrotters coming back home, soaking up the sunlight on a windows-down drive to destinations unknown.

Words by Andrew Ledford