Savage Times: The Complete Collection Vol. 1-5 by Hanni El Khatib

Release date: February 17, 2017
Label: Innovative Leisure

I picked this release to review pretty much on a whim; I’d heard the singles off of Hanni El Khatib‘s previous album Moonlight and enjoyed the funky, garage rock stylings and cool videos.  Turns out Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys fame had taken Khatib under his wing for that, his sophomore album, and produced a polished ultra-commercial beast, the edges taken off Khatib’s earlier recordings, he was now fully prepped to do battle with the wider rock audience. Savage Times is something different altogether. As the full title suggests, this is actually a compilation, rather than a neatly conceived and  focused document of a time in an artists life….or isn’t it?

The background is that these songs have been recorded over the past year, beginning in December 2015, and Khatib recorded what he liked, when he liked and released them as soon as he liked (although four of them appear here for the first time). Playing lots of unfamiliar instruments and trying out new musical paths, Savage Times is messy, surprising and yet powerfully thematic and with a captivating identity.

Khatib is a first generation American, his mother a Fillipino and his father a Palestinian, and his songs are full of what I’m going to have to call the immigrant experience, which is not something you hear a lot of in rock’n’roll. Full of pride, fear, anger and humanity, Khatib’s songs are small vignettes from the street, imbued with the same swagger as The New York Dolls, the grime of Lou Reed and the humour of The Ramones. Khatib’s lyrics are full of the threat of violence, in a world where the police may well not be on your side, but where you family and community will support you, as on the joyous ‘Mangos & Rice’. Yes, there’s plenty of it comes out swinging as garage rock nuggets; ‘Baby’s OK’, and the excellent ‘Mondo and His Makeup’, but Khatib branches out successfully into disco on ‘Paralysed’ which is like The Stones in their slinky 70’s pomp, brutalist techno on ‘Born Brown’ and ultra-hip funk on the LCD Soundsystem-esque ‘Freak Freely’.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s going on across these nineteen tracks, and each track has it’s singular charms, so that whilst structurally the whole thing is not exactly a smooth listening experience you can never accuse it of being boring, it’s like a really great mix tape of music that all shares the same singer and attitude.

So whilst going about his business and following his muse Hanni El Khatib has ended up catching the zeitgeist, as surely now is the time for artists to express their individuality, to speak out against oppression and racism, to stand up for the outsider and the little guy. As the man says, we must ‘Freak Freely’!

It would be fascinating to see the results if he carried out the same modus operandi in 2017. In the meanwhile, Savage Times is an essential listen.

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