Hanni El Khatib was the creative director for the fashion company HUF, he supposedly spent most of his time there writing songs which eventually became his career. He makes music that’s extremely bluesy and revels in the past, but even so his last album was enough to turn the head of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach after Khatib managed to have one his songs played in a Superbowl commercial.
Dan Auerbach produces the entirety of Khatib’s third album ‘Moonlight’ and much like The Black Keys’ last album it shows. It sounds like they’re both trying their hardest to pull out the big guns and to get Khatib into the big leagues of modern-day Rock N Roll music. On ‘Moonlight’ Khatib is going for the darkest sound he’s gone for yet, with much of this album sounding like it should be played in the early hours of the morning much like what Arctic Monkeys did on their last album and what Queens Of The Stone Age have been doing since forever. Much like on ‘AM’ and ‘Turn Blue’ Khatib is sporting more and more usage of falsetto vocals in the background giving off that smooth sound.
Khatib’s vocals themselves are often in the background of the mixing as well as being soaked in reverb and vocal effects to make him sound as dreamy as possible while the guitars and drums start pounding away. It’s another blatant attempt to sound as smooth as possible and he doesn’t quite have the finesse to pull it off; you get the feeling that the songs would have actually benefited from having more loud and clear vocals rather than laid back ones. The song ‘The Teeth’ is a testament to this. It sounds harder than anything else on this record with crisp as hell drums and heavy guitar leads – the vocal melody itself isn’t that bad on here either. But when the time comes towards the end where it feels like the song should be climaxing and reaching a point where it’s impossible not to bounce around, the calm, smooth vocals come back in rendering any emotions that had been gathering within yourself underwhelmed. That’s the case for a lot of the songs on here; the vocals are okay and passable but the guitar hooks themselves speak much louder and often push them out the way like they’d grown bored of being smooth.
This isn’t to Khatib is a bad singer, or even that much of an uncharismatic one – it’s just that he’s one that far too set on revelling in the past to show us how awesome the blues is rather than putting his own spin on it. The moments when the instrumentation is more soulful like ‘Worship Song No 2’ are the most dull as you don’t have either the instrumentation or the vocals to encapsulate you (at least until that Jack White-esque solo comes in). ‘Chasin” on the other hand is one of the better mellow moments on the record as he’s fits in so snugly with that rhythm section he’s singing over.
This won’t be the album that brings Khatib to the mainstream or one that gains him mountains of critical respect, but it is an enjoyable one nonetheless. It’s an imperfect little gem dedicated to the blues rock that he’s so fond of. Not exactly innovative but definitely worth at least one spin to grab out the few stand outs on the track list that you may return to. Khatib still shows potential, and part of me thinks that one day he will get his break into the mainstream.
Best Tracks: The Teeth, Chasin’, Moonlight