If I May: Six Bands to Explore
Jake May ’19 Columnist
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote briefly about what a joy it is to get into new music. So, for this week’s column, I decided to share some music that readers may be aware of.
Khruangbin Khruangbin (I am also unsure how to pronounce this name) is a largely-instrumental trio hailing from Houston, Texas. The three-piece is made up of Laura Lee on the bass guitar, Donald Ray “DJ” Johnson Jr. on the drums and Mark Speer on the guitar. The band blends eclectic styles into grooving tracks, drawing on everything from American soul and funk to traditional Thai and Indian music. I discovered the band through its excellent National Public Radio Tiny Desk concert, in which it plays the infectious tracks “Maria Tambien” and “August 10.” Another superb cut is “Two Fish and an Elephant.” Lee’s bass work is incredibly groovy; she is able to play behind the beat in such a way that creates an infectious pocket, which is only enhanced by Johnson’s minimalist approach to drumming. They provide a fantastic backdrop for Speer to deliver moving guitar lines and chord progressions. Khruangbin’s music is great to listen to on a run, for studying or when you just want to relax.
Television More people may be aware of this band than I realize; however, I only recently was turned on to them. Television is a rock band hailing from New York City, formed in 1973 when the punk and alternative music scene was growing in the area. Early on, the band frequented legendary rock club CBGB’s. While it was influential to the punk scene, the members are also known to be more technically proficient with their instruments than many of their peers, as they were influenced heavily by avant garde jazz. I haven’t yet had the chance to explore Television’s whole catalogue, but its seminal debut album, “Marquee Moon,” is fantastic all the way through. The two-guitar sound is both intimate and epic, and front-man Tom Verlaine’s vocals are unmistakable. To me, this is good driving music, but it’ll work anytime.
Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit This is a suggestion for those who into slightly weirder music. Led by Bruce Hampton, who played an odd mini-guitar-like instrument, this band was essentially a fusion group, featuring bassist Oteil Burbridge, guitarist Jimmy Herring and drummer Jeff Sipe. The group was defined by its incredible musicianship and also its eclectic influences. Songs like “Yield Not to Temptation” showcase the band’s rock n’ roll chops, while “Time Is Free” relies on jazz-fusion influences. However, both contain wacky lyrics written and sung by Hampton. Another great track is the classic electric-bluegrass cover of the blues traditional “Fixin’ to Die.” Each band member is an absolute virtuoso at their instrument, but Burbridge’s bass and Herring’s guitar are really the stars of the show. Both are able to mix technically impressive jazz chops with bluesy, emotional playing, resulting in fantastic improvised sections. My favorite album of the group’s is its eponymous live album.
Tedeschi Trucks Band This southern-blues-rock outfit is a larger band than any of the others, with its rotating lineup often featuring a full horn section, various back-up singers and even two drummers. However, it is anchored by the brilliant vocals of Susan Tedeschi and the stellar guitar work of her husband Derek Trucks. Tedeschi’s voice must be heard to be believed; her vocals on songs such as “Bound for Glory” are incredibly moving. Additionally, Trucks is, to my ears, the greatest living guitar player. He is a master of the slide technique, particularly on songs such as “Just as Strange” and “Midnight in Harlem.” Like The Aquarium Rescue Unit, Tedeschi Trucks Band’s best work is captured on its live albums. Its most recent live release, “Live From The Fox Oakland,” is particularly potent. Give it a spin.
INXS Pronounced “in excess,” this Australian rock band was founded by three brothers in 1977. The group’s success would last from the late ’70s through the early ’90s, and its sound evolved through the years. Initially, INXS was known as a new wave pop band, but over time it shifted to a more funky focus. It is these later years that I am more keen on, specifically the tracks “Need You Tonight” from the 1987 album “Kick,” and “Suicide Blonde” from its 1990 album “X.” Both of these albums are worth a full listen, however. The band’s lead singer for most of its existence, Michael Hutchence (not one of the brothers) has an infectious voice and presence on these tracks.
Phish You didn’t think you’d get through a band-related article without me mentioning Phish, did you? The Vermont four-piece improvisational rock outfit is my favorite band of all time. Defined by its eclectic sound and thrilling live shows (I see a pattern here), Phish has been an incredibly successful touring act in the United States since the mid-’90s. And yet, it still manages to fly under the radar. If you have never listened to the band before, I would honestly give it a chance. Before I started listening, I never thought that improvised music would connect with me in such a way. Perhaps the same will happen to you. A good entry point is the sprawling rendition of “Tweezer” performed on Feb. 28, 2003 (on Spotify). Listen particularly to the section beginning about 12 minutes in (yes, I know it’s a very long song).