Hanni El Katib has been touring relentlessly behind the material on his debut, Will the Guns Come Out for more than two years now. Consider a sampling if the list of things Hanni has been up to since completing the album: The official video for the sunny-sounding, doo-wop-inflected kiss-off “Dead Wrong” came out last June. He’s toured in support of Florence and the Machine and played Bonnaroo; he’s also played everything from food truck festivals in LA to SXSW; created a zine to accompany the album, which came packaged with a pre-release version of the CD that at one point made its way into the inventory of the boutique Collette in Paris. Had a song (“You Rascal You”) featured in the HBO hit Hung.
Hanni plays all his shows with only himself — beating away on his guitar and howling — and a drummer, and they seriously tear shit up. It’s their live energy that likely garnered them attention and some recognition. Unfortunately, that energy doesn’t come through strongly on Will the Guns Come Out.
The album is far more polished than anything you’d expect if you’d only seen a Hanni show. As he tells it, Hanni started recording songs for kicks while working his day job as an art director and designer for advertising companies (he was also creative director for San Francisco-based skate clothing label HUF). Not incidentally, the old connections must have come in handy, because the first track on the album, “I Got a Thing” (a Funkadelic cover, unrecognizable save the lyrics) has already been featured in a Nike spot. He got some help from his friend and everybody’s favorite former punk turned doe-eyed electronic moper, Marc Bianchi (aka Her Space Holiday), who offered his studio and plays on some of the album’s tracks. In the end: there’s plenty of finger snapping and maracas and a cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” that sounds just like “Chocolate Jesus” and it’ll make great background music for skate videos.
If there’s an item of ironic animal print clothing hanging in your closet or you know the difference between a porkpie and a derby, then chances are you’ll find something to like about Hanni El Khatib’s debut effort (he has one previous acoustic folk-y EP to his name). The album tries on vintage rock and roll styles like a teenager playing dress-up in a thrift store, and one senses that Hanni was likely more influenced by the current vogue for garage rock than any particular affinity for the originals. For instance, the sound of his “Fuck It. You Win.” owes a far greater debt to “Seven Nation Army” than anything Blue Cheer or the MC5 ever recorded. Though Hanni certainly sings it like he means it.