San Francisco-born multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Hanni El Khatib graces our ears once again with his new double album Savage Times, serving up more of the gritty, fuzzy, low-slung rock n’ roll that has become his signature since his first few 7” singles showed up on Innovative Leisure, the label El Khatib co-owns and acts as creative director for its incredibly diverse roster of artists.
Growing up in San Francisco, the son of Palestinian and Filipino parents, Hanni was immersed in the city’s skateboarding scene as surf rock, British Invasion bands and soul groups provided the soundtrack, prompting him to pick up the guitar at a young age. While skateboarding eventually lead him to a position as creative director at street wear giant HUF, he recorded demos in his spare time, one of which landed in the hands of future Innovative Leisure co-founder Jamie Strong, who signed El Khatib in 2010.
Hanni El Khatib’s earlier works were often raw and jagged, adding sharp visceral edges to what some might feel were slightly dated rock tropes, echoing a stripped back minimalism found in music by The White Stripes or The Black Keys (Black Key’s Dan Auerbach produced Hanni’s sophomore album Head In The Dirt at his Easy Eye Studio in Nashville in 2012). That’s not to say any of it has been mere mimicry. Hanni has always had his own unique voice, which still rings loud and clear on Savage Times.
It’s pretty difficult to pin down Savage Times to one particular sound. Obviously, there’s a very healthy dose of the taut, ballsy, low riding rock you’d expect to find on tracks like “Mondo And His Makeup”, “Till Your Rose Comes Home” and my personal favourite “So Dusty”, which feels like the lovechild of ZZ Top and early Queens Of The Stone Age that’s been left to grow up in the desert. El Khatib’s lifelong love of 60’s soul and pop is alive and well here too, chiefly on ‘Baby’s Ok” a jangly stomper perfect for kicking off a booze-fueled house party.
What really sets this record apart, however, is the tracks you don’t see coming. What the album lacks in a sense of true cohesion it makes up for in sheer variety.
“Paralyzed” evokes some of The Rolling Stones’ mid-70s work, with it’s funky guitar work and sugary sweet chorus set against the backdrop of a subtle disco tinged backbeat, while he manages to channel (unintentionally, in my opinion) a pretty decent Mick Jagger. “Come Down” injects a bit of an obscure hip-hop element to the record, with a slowly swung break beat and a fuzzy round synthesizer bass line that sets an off-kilter groove against the repeating incantational lyrics, while “Freak Freely” feels it could be a slightly reworked B side from I, Assassin-era Gary Numan.
Not all of the songs on Savage Times are new material. A fair number of the tracks like “Baby’s OK” and the politically charged “Born Brown” (which is scarily even more fitting in 2017) first appeared on a series of Savage Times EPs, which surfaced digitally on Innovative Leisure as they were completed throughout 2016, so for some listeners this won’t be all virgin territory. That being said, there is more than enough content to keep both new and old listeners happy, especially the vinyl purists out there, who are being treated to a 3 x 10” set for the physical release (and it’s definitely one that truly sounds better on vinyl)!
An album like Savage Times deserves to be heard on proper system, so swing in to your local Richer Sounds and let us help you get the most from your music!
Author: Colin, Chiswick store