Hanni El Khatib: Head in the Dirt Review

Coupling sonic fuzz with a rebel rocker sensibility, Los Angeles-based Hanni El Khatib approaches his sophomore album buttressed by the vigor heard on his 2011 debut Will the Guns Come Out and a refined sound that places his new record on a level playing field with today’s best in blues rock. Recorded in less than a month with help from friend and producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Head in the Dirt shows Khatib entirely in his element, unveiling tracks that burst into irresistible grooves with a sound that fits well into the preferences of today’s young blues rock fans but remains innovative in its persistently unique sound and style.

So far, Khatib has released three singles from his new record to give listeners a taste of what’s to come before the expected April 30, 2013 release. The first of these is “Can’t Win ‘Em All,” a track with a trembling vibrato start that swiftly transforms into a rhythm-heavy piece that Audi found perfect for use in the company’s amusing “Prom” commercial, which got its first airing during this year’s Super Bowl. “Family” and “Penny” followed as additional singles sure to stick in listeners’ heads. While “Family” kicks off with racing drums and keys and “Penny” utilizes a pop-friendly combination of beats during its chorus, each song has the potential for mass appeal due to the raw feeling Khatib coaxes out of them and of the rest of the album.

Rarely do Khatib’s vocals sound crystal clear; instead, most of the lyrics uttered sound like they are buffered by a filmy layer that can at times result in a faraway effect. Though some artists can’t pull it off, this technical choice works well for Khatib. In Head in the Dirt’s fifth track “Nobody Move,” a slight echo is added to the fuzz, making Khatib’s vocals thicker as the rhythmically powerful song gets an extra boost. “Save Me” continues the tradition of distanced vocals above a rolling riff that gives it a bluesy edge over the album’s other tracks. To wind things down, Head in the Dirt closes with more infused blues in “House On Fire,” a slow-moving feature that focuses on lyrics about a troubled love before diving into gritty guitar work supported by drum bursts and a bit of controlled feedback.

After the release of his debut record, it was clear that Khatib was an artist fueled by strong instincts and gutsy aspirations. On Head in the Dirt, Khatib steps forward ready to claim his place at the forefront of modern rock. With his blues and rock influences never too far away, Khatib strays just enough to generate a manicured rough sound all his own. On another note, points must surely be awarded for the artwork selected for Head in the Dirt and each of its singles – never underestimate the power of presentation.

The Review: 8.5/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Penny
– Can’t Win ‘Em All
– Save Me
– Sinking in the Sand

The Big Hit

– Penny

Review by Meghan Roos

Buy the album: Amazon | iTunes

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