Art is the way people decorate space and music is how people decorate time. I don’t remember where I ever heard that, maybe my brother or some cheesy quote in calligraphy over a filtered-shot of the Grand Canyon on the Internet, but it is has stuck with me ever since. I like to imagine it’s as if a painting is coming to life next to me as I walk down the street with my headphones on or as if pictures are floating along the car as you blast the stereo, just like what you have in your house.
And just how a painting can give you a glimpse into the fabulous world of the artist, music can provide a little snapshot of the world of the musicians who made it. You listen to an album and it this place the musicians have created and it calls to you from behind the speakers. But, it is usually merely a window to those delightful places, something you can see and hear but you can’t experience it.
However, some albums are such obvious products of their environments they manage to transport you right into the world of the artist. Houston trio Khruangbin, recorded its pastoral debut album, “The Universe Smiles Upon You,” in a barn out in the 300-person town of Burton, Texas, far away from the lights, noises and distractions of modern life. As the band explained to Impose Magazine, the barn, “creates a sense of spaciousness, serenity, and creative freedom. It’s a crucial member of the band.” Every time I have put on “The Universe Smiles Upon You,” I have taken a 40-minute trip to that isolated sanctuary and have been able to gaze up into the beauty of the night sky and feel an overriding sense of connection to something tangible but inexplicable.
The album truly has a universal feel to it as it is not grounded to any particular time period or style. Guitarist Mark Speer and drummer Donald Johnson played gospel music together in Houston before incorporating bassist Laura Lee into the fold. As a trio, the band continued to search out interestingly good music, and they fell in love with the musings of Thai-funk from the 1960s and 1970s. Thai-funk by the way of Houston gospel is certainly a psychedelic concoction, but you can hear how well the band has blended those two influences together on the serene closer “Zionsville” or “Two Fish and an Elephant,” which breezes by with the calm of the ocean at sunset.
But reducing this music as combination of gospel and Thai-funk is a disservice to the elegant creativeness of this band. This music really is its own unique, vivid world and its meditative undertone allows one to really let go and explore where the music can take you. “Mr. White” sets a perfect tone for the album as you’re tethered to the Earth on Johnson and Lee’s hushed but direct rhythm while you float along in the atmosphere to Speer’s warm, buzzed tones. “Little Joe and Mary” is tender and innocent, Speer’s high-whistling flourishes on his guitar playing with Lee’s bubbling bass line.
“The Universe Smiles Upon You” has that rare quality of being able to be played in a loop without it growing old. It just spins with the tranquility of Earth in the quiet vastness of outer space as time becomes indefinite and we become connected to the farthest reaches of universe. It is impossible to hang that art neatly in frame in your house, so you gotta go out and experience it for yourself.
“The Universe Smiles Upon You”
Release: Nov. 6, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Mr. White,” “Two Fish and a Elephant”