The endorsements of Aesop Rock and Jamie Strong (Stone Throw’s “Minister of Information” and the man behind the epic Do-Over series) go a long way. But even if Hanni El Khatib didn’t arrive with impeccable credentials, I suspect that I’d have become an instant convert to his bloozy garage-rock soul, suggestive of Jack White if he was a spiritual disciple of Sam Cooke rather than Son House. Not to saddle El Khatib with such lofty comparisons after having heard only a few of his songs, but there’s a reason why Strong decided to partner with his co-worker Nate Nelson to release “Dead Wrong” as the first release on Nelson’s Innovative Leisure imprint (a Stones Throw subsidiary), and why KCRW DJ’s Jeremy Sole and Garth Trinidad are already on-board.
Don’t be fooled by the title, “Dead Wrong,” the A-Side of his forthcoming debut single, is not a cover of the Biggie and Eminem classic. There are no cannibals, mammals, or rabbits. Just an impressionistic three and a half minute blur, featuring a misunderstood and slighted man with venom in his voice. The threats are partially concealed by the 1950s soda fountain “doo-wa-doos” and sugary guitar melodies, but Khatib’s voice drips with Jack Daniel’s jitters. He even admits it “might be a scary sight/to run into us at night/you think we’re all fucked up, high.” It’s stoner music for drunks or it’s the other way around. And in his self-assured stutter-stop cadences and precocious melodic gifts, there’s the underpinnings of a real talent. He also dedicates these songs to “anyone who’s ever been shot or hit by a train.”