If you need an idea on what a Hanni El Khatib record is like, it’s best to go straight to the source. “Songs for anybody who has ever been shot or hit by a train” he calls it. “Knife-fighting music” for people who, “if they saw a snake on the ground, they’d step on its head”, or “being stuck in the desert with $5, a knife and a muscle car”. Yep, El Khatib has already offered more quote-worthy snippets about his first two albums than I ever could. With ‘Moonlight’, the Californian’s third release, it feels as if he’s still working within the confines of his own self-branding, which stops this from being the record it deserves to be. Testosterone, blood, sweat and pain courses through the veins of ‘Moonlight’, but without a counterpoint it lacks the vulnerability or rawness that would make this a deeper listen.
If there is any truth in El Khatib’s sloganeering, it’s that ‘Moonlight’ really would make a great soundtrack to being lost in a barren dustbowl, somewhere along the borders of Mexico and the States. Each song is unsettled by El Khatib’s half-cocked vocal delivery, him sounding somewhat like a fever-dream messiah brought on by dehydration, while the slap-back treatment smothering his voice paints him as a zealous preacher addressing the masses from his rock’n’roll pulpit. Hear the big-top breakdown in ‘Home’ for proof (and maybe even conversion).
Testosterone, blood, sweat and pain courses through the veins of ‘Moonlight’.
El Khatib easily straddles and steals from genres throughout the whole of ‘Moonlight’ – drumbeat-driven hip hop (‘Moonlight’), the stoner-rock monotony of ‘Songs for the Deaf’-era Homme (‘Teeth’), and even disco (‘Two Brothers’), all while underpinning everything with the 50s-meets-garage rock sound of his earlier releases. It’s this sonic-kleptomania that makes it even more difficult to work out why the entire album sounds, essentially, like just another Black Keys record, or a Jack White side project. Dan Auerbach’s role has obviously stretched further than just producing El Khatib’s second LP – he’s also made his way onto this record through musical osmosis.
For all its flaws, it’s hard not to root for ‘Moonlight’, and when it shines it’s a riot. The album’s killer opening volley will undoubtedly win over many sceptics, especially with the sexy-as-fuck ‘Melt Me’, and this album should plant El Khatib as someone to keep a close watch on. For now though, there’s still room for him to grow – another trip to the desert awaits.