Release Date: Apr 30, 2013
Record label: Innovative Leisure
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk, Punk Blues
Like hundred-dollar sandblasted jeans, the grit and grain on Hanni El Khatib's second LP feels less like the product of time and more like careful craftsmanship. Produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, this is desert-burned blues rock boosted by punk, soul and hip-hop – music that has a retro heart but couldn't have been made before 2013. He's less convincing as a badass ("Family") than as a guy who fights desperation by partying ("Low").
Partnering with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach seems to be all the rage right now. If you questioned this trend, please direct your attention to Hanni El Khatib’s newest release. Head in The Dirt, the SF native’s sophomore offering, shows a delightfully vast range of influences. While there is the obvious almost-polished-yet-still-rough-and-soulful Keys influence on songs like “Pay No Mind,” tracks like “Save Me” and the instant pop classic “Penny” keep us wanting more.
If you've been thinking that every new rock band on the radio sounds like the Black Keys, it's no coincidence. Members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have a pretty good production thing going on the side, with Auerbach in particular taking the breakthrough they made with 2010's Brothers to new commercial heights. Hanni El Khatib is the latest beneficiary, although he's been fully prepared, having made rumblings in the West coast garage rock scene over the past few years.
On his 2011 debut, Will The Guns Come Out, Filipino/Palestinian skater-turned-rocker Hanni El Khatib firmly aligned himself with society’s outcasts and downtrodden (see that record’s “Fuck It, You Win”; a banjo-folk cover of “Heartbreak Hotel”) and was quoted as saying that he was making music for “anyone who has ever been shot or hit by a train” – two demographics marketers often overlook, but one was that a smart garage punk like El Khatib could turn into a fanbase. Will The Guns… was hardly an original record – indeed nearly every review of it employed the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll pastiche’, and for what it’s worth, he shares a record label with two other successful rock repurposers, the Allah-Las and Nick Waterhouse – but it was fun, with energy and style to burn, to say nothing of the fact that it largely answered the question, What would it sound like if Jon Spencer fronted the White Stripes? In today’s lean rock world, meeting those conditions again on a sophomore disc counts as not breaking something that doesn’t need fixing, and Head In The Dirt successfully picks up where El Khatib’s debut left off. So yeah, El Khatib’s still chronicling the folks on the other side of the tracks (presumably before they were hit by a train): the self-made criminal of the spy-movie soundtrack-gone-reggae “Nobody Move”; the hard-partying, car-crashing idiot of “Pay No Mind” (“My useless brain is ruined”); the guy who “almost died on the street / but you were quick on your feet” on the Middle Eastern-tinged “Low” and the more general dire situations of “Save Me” and “Sinking In The Sand”.
With Grammy-festooned producer and Black Keys man Dan Auerbach riding sidecar, it comes as no surprise that Los Angeles art-greaser Hanni El Khatib’s second album is an engine-revving dose of filthy, leather-clad blues. For the most part, his rasping punk is a sexy but grotty treat, with the album’s strutting title track and ‘Pay No Mind’ driving you to the woods for some aural dogging while The Sonics blast on the car stereo. Yet when stacked against the corrosive ‘Psycho Killer’ stomp of ‘Can’t Win ‘Em All’ and slow-sizzling Southern groover ‘House On Fire’, the trite ‘Penny’ is disappointingly anaemic.Leonie Cooper .
Building off of the sound of his reckless and grimy debut, Hanni El Khatib returns with a somewhat more polished sound for his sophomore effort, Head in the Dirt. While the music retains the same eclectic quality El Khatib brought to Will the Guns Come Out, the practiced hand of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach can be felt all over the production, with Auerbach reigning in El Khatib's sound without necessarily snuffing out his creativity. Like a garage punk version of Devendra Banhart, Hanni El Khatib freely drifts from style to style, taking what he likes and discarding the rest to build songs like "Nobody Move," where a wall of blown-out, bluesy fuzz gives way to an atmospheric reggae vibe.