Hanni El Khatib’s debut, 2011’s Will The Guns Come Out, was a dirty blues record with a hint of doo-wop, and reworking’s of genre classics such as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and Louis Armstrong’s ‘You Rascal You’.
The sound was minimalistic, performed by himself and drummer Nicholas Fleming-Yaryan, usually restricted to guitar, drums, and bass.
For a blues-rock two-piece, comparisons to the Black Keys seem inevitable. On his follow-up record he has gone a step further enlisting the Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach to produce/hijack the record.
10 of the 11 tracks are co-written by Auerbach, who is also credited as contributing guitar, bass, percussion, and vocals on many of the compositions.
As a producer he has fully involved himself in this project. The production is slicker, the songs more expansive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although what characterised Khatib’s debut has, in a way, been left behind.
That being said there is plenty here to embrace. ‘Family’ opens with an explosion of drums and continues on a tear that is the sonic equivalent of a man on the run. This theme carries over to ‘Nobody Move’ where Khatib declares, above the grooves that flirt with reggae, “I ain’t going back where I came from/been treated like a rat where I came from”.
His vocals are buried beneath fuzz, a stylistic choice which succeeds because as a vocalist his delivery is as interesting as any lyric; from the frenzied rants of ‘Sinking In The Sand’ to the delightfully crowded ‘Penny’.
With Auerbach’s seal of approval Khatib is positioned as someone who will make their mark on contemporary rock. Head In The Dirt may not be the album which takes over the mainstream, but it doesn’t feel too far off.