The bourbon-spiked rock of Hanni El Khatib


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Hanni El Khatib isn’t a star yet, but it might just be inevitable. His album release show Monday night at the Echo was a gathering of L.A. power brokers, with a crowd that included Westside CAA agents, music supervisors and NPR DJs. What they saw was a young artist who set his amp on fire. The gesture was accidental, but it might have been a metaphor for his career trajectory.

After all, it was only 18 months ago when Khatib decamped from his native San Francisco to take a post as creative director at a skate firm, HUF. He didn’t last long in the L.A. working world. A pair of 45s released for local indie Innovative Leisure took hold among those who like their steaks bloody and their guitars deafening. KCRW quickly championed him. Florence and the Machine took him on a pair of tours. He even landed a song in a Nike Chosen commercial.


The ballyhoo preceded his full-length debut, ‘Will the Guns Come Out.’ Released Tuesday on Innovative Leisure, the record is a taut, muscular collection of rock ‘n’ roll. There are knife-wielding shadows of doo-wop and the Cramps, hip-hop bravado and punk puckishness. It’s malt shop music for those who like their confections spiked with bourbon. There are gloom-riddled folk ballads and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ serves as an homage both to Elvis Presley and Tom Waits. The effect is a no-frills two-piece rock that bears a vague resemblance to the work of the White Stripes and the Black Keys.

Live and on wax, his songs are versatile enough to attract the blood-and-guts assaults favored by frat boys and the dark undertones favored by those of frailer temperament. He ran through cuts off his album, the woozy demons conjured by ‘Dead Wrong,’ the amphetamine thrash of ‘Build, Destroy, Rebuild,’ the primal yawp of ‘Loved One.’

Khatib has the ability to turn his voice into a sneer and it will take him far. Drummer Nicky Fleming-Yaryan beats his kit with the sturdiness of red brick. In person, the effect is direct, visceral and raw. That’s how it will probably sound on your radio too.

MP3: Hanni El Khatib-’Come Alive’


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-- Jeff Weiss