Purists may blanch at the thought of a rock 'n' roller tinkering with the nuts and bolts of garage rock, but Hanni El Khatib does exactly that on his new full-length Will the Guns Come Out. He attends to the basics, but the record's best moments occur when El Khatib adds traces of early '60s pop and twisted social commentary to compositions that rely on buried hooks and crazed guitar. He makes tinkering seem like a noble goal, although he never forgets the aggression that's essential to great rock 'n' roll.
A San Francisco native who just turned 30, Hanni El Khatib began playing guitar after his parents' failed attempts to turn him into a classical musician. "My mom tried to get me into piano when I was young," he says. "It wasn't for me — reading sheet music isn't fun, and playing classical music wasn't what I wanted to do. We had a guitar lying around the house, and I was like, 'Couldn't I just play guitar instead?' "
It wasn't until high school that El Khatib began trying to record his own songs. He got a job as an art director for a skateboard company and became hooked on music — especially live performance — as he continued to work his regular gig. Making the decision to quit his job and pursue music full time was difficult, but he and drummer Nicky Fleming-Yaryan made the move to Los Angeles last year, and they haven't looked back.
Will the Guns Come Out shares characteristics with any number of minimalist garage-rock projects, from The Strange Boys to The White Stripes. Still, El Khatib brings his wide-ranging taste to bear on the project. Along with some effective originals, the record features a cover of Fuzzy Haskins' "I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody's Got a Thing," which appeared on Funkadelic's self-titled 1970 debut album.
"I have a really broad spectrum of musical interests and taste," El Khatib says. "But I think what's really drawn me to garage rock is the aspect of performing live. In the studio, I'd rather have a good performance than an emotionless, pristine take. It's like bands like The Cramps and The Sonics did it. You know, they didn't give a shit, and that's cool."
The record peaks with "Dead Wrong," an original that sounds something like a '60s girl-group song. Falsetto background vocals combine with a fluttering electric-guitar figure and acoustic guitar. Like the rest of Will the Guns, it effortlessly combines idioms. El Khatib sings in a classically snotty style that perfectly fits the record's lo-fi but artful sound.
El Khatib's Nashville show marks his and drummer Fleming-Yaryan's first appearance in town, although they played Bonnaroo last month. El Khatib is something special — Will the Guns has real range, from feedback-laden guitar solos to the eerie and unclassifiable ode to urban squalor, "Garbage City." It's a record that messes with the form, and El Khatib's successful experiments will mess with your head.
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