Album Review: Hanni El Khatib – Savage Times (2017 LP)

Listening to this 19 track long album before you realise it’s a collection of EPs can be confronting. Hanni El Khatib produced five separate EPs last year and this collection is all of them thrown together.

The first track, “Baby’s OK” has a strong drum beat and starts with the line, “I was high as fuck, I was high as fuck, I was high as fuck but hear me out!” There’s a real garage-rock aspect to this song, the guitar and drums have a raw sound and there are no other instruments. El Khatib’s voice sounds strained, the way you’d sound if you were “High as fuck,” I assume. This is different to the last time I listened to El Khatib, on his 2014 album Head in the Dirt. Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, it had a finished, polished feel to it that this collection has moved away from.

Don’t listen to “Gonna Die Alone” if you’re feeling sad about the world. It’s catchy as all hell, but do you really want to be walking around singing “I’m gonna die alone, really alone, I’m gonna die alone, really alone,” when it gets stuck in your head, if you’re already a bit down? The song uses a mix of instruments, introducing bass and keys, and the arrangement changes from verse to verse. By the end of the song, the line has changed to “We gonna die alone, really alone,” and El Khatib is shouting it over the top of the guitar line. It’s almost a celebration, a relief, something you learn to deal with and celebrate eventually.

“Born Brown” is an assault on my ears, with the line “I was born brown, born brown, born brown” being repeated over and over. The distorted guitars almost sound like dogs barking, which just adds to the overall unpleasant feeling and sound of this track.

“Paralyzed” is upbeat, jaunty and catchy. The bass line, paired with keys and a punchy drum beat makes it a real standout on this collection. While the lyrics aren’t meant to be happy, their delivery masks the pain behind them. Repeating “Cos I’m… oooh oooh paralyzed, ooh ooh I’m paralyzed,” through the chorus gives it a hook, one I’ll be singing to myself for some time yet.

The rest of the collection is similar. The individual EPs are in groups of three, with a formula of: one stripped back, garage style song; one heavy, thrashing song; one unexpectedly catchy song. The rest of the collection are new tracks, and even they follow this formula.

“1AM” is stripped back, and only features guitar, kick drum and vocals. The lyrics are delivered with anger and El Khatib repeats “I’ll fight, I’ll fight all night,” until the end.
‘Peep Show’ is the sexy, catchy track and features a kick-ass bass line along with a quick drum beat and a high pitched guitar. El Khatib repeats: “I fell alone in the peep show, I’m all alone in the peep show. I walked, I walked, walked the whole night,” and the guitar is distorted to sound like a siren over the top. His voice is in a higher register, which adds to the feeling of loss throughout the song.

Closing track “Freak Freely” sounds like a motivational song and starts with the line, “Be yourself” repeated, eventually adding “Even if it kills you,” and later, “Even if those who love you hate you.” The instrumentation and arrangement on this track is the most interesting, and boasts distorted guitar, a groovy bass line, and random synthesized sounds sprinkled throughout. There’s a snippet of someone speaking about Alcatraz in San Francisco, and the song brings in some more sounds and cymbals, while the vocals repeat “Be yourself, even if it kills you,” and layers female voices singing, “Freak freely if you’re really a freak,” over the top.

This collection was incredibly interesting, very different to what I’ve heard Hanni El Khatib do over the years; a perfect mixture of heavily produced and stripped back.

Review Score: 7.9 out of 10

Savage Times is out now.