If there is one consistency across Hanni El Khatib’s body of work thus far, it is his staunch rebellion against being boxed into any one specific genre. For his fifth release – ‘FLIGHT’ – Hanni remains true to form.
‘FLIGHT’ comes off the back of El Khatib’s 2017 release, ‘Savage Times’. In those three years, a lot has changed for Hanni – take a major car accident for a start. With a set of demos already drifting in the ether between Hanni and producer Leon Michaels (of Travis Scott, Lana del Rey and Mark Ronson fame), the car crash sparked Hanni into finishing writing the album.
The result is a 13-track exploration into the depths of El Khatib’s sonic imagination – no boundary is untested, and no idea left unturned. Songs flit from jazz, to funk, to garage rock, to punk, with El Khatib genre-jumping from verse to chorus and back again on occasion.
On single, ‘STRESSY’, we have a Drum and Bass heavy breakbeat roll, laid over a Funk bass groove and finger-clickin’ good finger clicking. Hanni intersperses with a guttural, “Stuck in a hole, no chance of getting out I know”. It’s a bit of Strokes, a bit of Prodigy, a bit of Black Keys – but it is totally unique.
‘ALIVE’ is another standout from the album. The track is a clear nod to the car accident, with El Khatib confessing, “I can’t believe I’m alive, spun around turned upside down, I’m alive, how can this be true?” For all the instrumental twists and turns on 'FLIGHT', it is refreshing that ‘ALIVE’ is delivered with such clarity and honesty. The track is an instant summer hit – using repetitive synth patterns and dashes up and down the keyboard to evoke lazy poolside days.
El Khatib’s style has been previously described as, “shapeshifting”. This assessment could not be more accurate on, ‘LEADER’: three minutes of call and response fun. The track breaks down into a crazed Arabian interlude, and changes shape again with the help of Beyonce Homecoming-esque trumpets. You can’t help but think some kind of political statement is also being squeezed into the bag, as El Khatib reiterates, “I’m looking for a leader”.
However, constant experimentation can come at a cost. The 13 tracks of constantly shifting sands can, at times, leave the listener feeling uprooted and adrift. The not knowing what can come next on a track, while laudable in some respects, can be unsettling. This is also true of the running order of ‘FLIGHT’. The album opens with ‘CARRY’, a sub two-minute Garage Rock blast which races onto next track, ‘GLASSY’: a swoony, mellow and down-tempo contrast. The change of pace could come as a shock to anyone but a seasoned, prescient Hanni El Khatib fan.
‘DETROIT’ too, the penultimate track on the album, oozes with a squirty cream bass guitar and smooth jazz Hammond organ: it sounds like the perfect wind down to the album. The pace ramps up again with album closer, PEACE – where El Khatib declares, “I’ve found peace” …. but with all this chopping and changing, has the listener?
Having said this, ‘FLIGHT’ is demonstrative of Hanni’s clear ability to create an earworm hook through skilled instrumentation. Any accusation of incoherence can be nay-sayed by his grunge vocal, which consistently ties disparate sounds together. When El Khatib created ‘FLIGHT’, he intended to make a record with the feel of a mixtape about it. While ‘FLIGHT’ may not be for the faint-hearted, it is undeniable that El Khatib has set out what he wanted to do, and has done so in the style of a true professional.
Words: Sophie Church
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