Hanni El Khatib doesn’t have a thing to prove to anyone. He’s past any debut album nerves, blowing people out of the water with When The Guns Come Out. “You Rascal, You” has soundtracked some of your favorite commercials, and “F—k It, You Win” is the best brush-off song a scorned lover could have created.
Then there’s the follow-up fear that comes after initial success; does an artist stay true to their original sound or venture on and expand? Head In The Dirt was a polished, progressive balance of both of those options. The lighthearted “Penny” was the coined single and reflected a new, brighter mood, while “Head In The Dirt” kept with the brooding nature of When The Guns Come Out.
At this point, Hanni El Khatib’s got a reputable name, a loyal following, and a damn-impressive repertoire. By the time he was creating his third LP, Moonlight (out this Tuesday, January 20th), Hanni had already earned the right to do whatever he wanted; we just had to wait and see what that was exactly.
“Moonlight” was fans’ first taste, and we at LA Music Blog loved the album-titled track so much it made our Top 10 Singles of 2014 list. The song is unabashedly ominous. The echoing guitar riffs haunt listeners throughout the song, as do the eerie harmonies and hostile lyrics. While that may sound cold and uninviting, I dare you to listen to the song and not get sucked into the surprising catchiness of it all.
And just like that, “Moonlight” becomes “Melt Me,” leaving behind somber, sinister undertones and sliding right into knee-buckling flirtation. “Melt Me” to Moonlight is what “Skinny Little Girl” was to Head In The Dirt: the song I find myself coming back to over and over again. It’s insatiable. It’s intoxicating. It’s freaking perfect.
You may think you’re ready to come down from the high that is “Melt Me,” but the album roller-coasts right back up with an electrifying intro to “The Teeth.” The song reflects the band’s roots, with almost-distant tin-can reverberation. The guitars really shine in this song right up until a soaring solo closes out the track.
“Chasin’” slows the pace of the album before pouring right into “Worship Song (No 2),” during which the tempo remains cool and sedated. “Mexico” appears to keep in the same vein, but actually swells slowly. Each passing second adds layers of texture until just before the second-minute mark when candid sounds of (what I can only guess is) Mexico City life meet with acoustic strums and stripped-down percussion. Those sounds are joined by bass and tumultuous electric guitars, and the song settles back into waves of calm that roll seamlessly between lullaby-like tones and chaotic bliss.
Breaking into the second half of the album, “Servant” is an upbeat declaration of submission with the twang and scratch of old-soul blues. While the song is as full sounding as the rest of the album, it’s surprisingly the bass that really shines through in this track, and without skipping a beat, the record rips and roars right into “All Black.” At just about two-and-a-half minutes long, the song is explosive. A fast-paced frenzy of racecar-inspired momentum and mood, it’s over too soon.
“Home” is a dizzying search for the comfort of, well, home. The bridge leads to a whole new level of eerie — think creepy carnival announcer with devious guitar tones that are contradictorily dance-friendly. Keeping consistent with the album’s overall theme, “Dance Hall” is slow and cautious, but still incredibly dark, deviant, and truly reflective of Moonlight’s album art.
If any track within Moonlight best exhibits the band’s growth and genre expansion it’s “Two Brothers.” The song is the longest of the catalog, and the length is necessary to accommodate the multidimensional, emotional ballad. At the finale, there’s a new wave of…disco? Not at all what I’ve come to expect from Hanni El Khatib. Blues, punk, old-soul rock and roll? Yes. But the ’70s-inspired beats that come through in the second half of “Two Brothers” are quite a juxtaposition to the somber setting of the song.
Well, you’ve done it again, Hanni. Cue the non-ironic slow clapping. Moonlight is out January 20th on Innovative Leisure. Go listen for yourself!