Building off of the sound of his reckless and grimy debut, Hanni El Khatib returns with a somewhat more polished sound for his sophomore effort, Head in the Dirt. While the music retains the same eclectic quality El Khatib brought to Will the Guns Come Out, the practiced hand of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach can be felt all over the production, with Auerbach reigning in El Khatib's sound without necessarily snuffing out his creativity. Like a garage punk version of Devendra Banhart, Hanni El Khatib freely drifts from style to style, taking what he likes and discarding the rest to build songs like "Nobody Move," where a wall of blown-out, bluesy fuzz gives way to an atmospheric reggae vibe. Head in the Dirt can feel a bit scattered at times, but in a way, that seems to be the point. This album isn't some kind of carefully planned cross-cultural experiment that one would expect from Vampire Weekend, but rather it feels like El Khatib is just smashing together the things he likes while barely holding the whole thing together with his own intensity and enthusiasm. That said, for all of its weirdness, this album feels more like a pop record than his debut, and while Auerbach certainly didn't scrub all of the dirt and grime off of the album, it feels a lot more put together, bearing a lot of resemblance to the Black Keys' later work. Fortunately for listeners, it takes a lot more than a little studio magic to snuff out a flame as bright and weird as El Khatib's.
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney