Reining Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys in to produce is generally perceived as a wise move. Indeed, San Franciscan Hanni El Khatib ushers in a blistering deluge of blues-infused garage-y rock and punk-flecked soul on his second record, Head In The Dirt, with Auerbach in his camp. It's got that grazed-knee skater grit and the pop eloquence of contemporary R&B; it's designed to sound raw. It could be interpreted as El Khatib's love letter to the 60s on this LP, with bountiful nods to Motown, jangly 60s pop-rock and soul.

Gristly summer strummer 'Low' wields psychedelia twangs proudly. Everything's a bit acid-tinged and surreal. The drums rattle with abandon, there's swirling reggae synths and Middle Eastern instrumentation; rolling bass gallops fearlessly. 'Save Me' is much more back-to-basics rock. Bouts of distortion battle with noodly solo passages, all the while backed by convivial handclaps and soul percussion. There's a bit of a garage-gospel feel to it. 'Skinny Little Girl' is home to fret buzz the kind of crackling, warped vocals you'd get from an old radio. The organs and guitars construct a low-key sinisterness (that ultimately includes haunting backing vocals) behind drums that feel unusually high in the mix and El Khatib's blissfully unaware voice.

Working the creative director for skate brand HUF, as well as his general love for the wheeled board, helped shape his debut tone (he described it as being for "anyone who has ever been shot or hit by a train"). El Khatib drew from this side of his life and slotted nicely into place as a spokesperson for the cast out and the belittled; it was a marvellous combination of grassroots rock and precise songwriting. However, on this follow-up two years later, we're not seeing the same rugged underdog, we're seeing someone more assured and more refined. The tone of the whole record isn't too different - it's more confident, perhaps - it's just more burnished. Sleeker. Slicker. No doubt Auerbach's expertise has been crucial in orchestrating this smoothification.

Motown ditty 'Penny' is syrup-encrusted tweeness. Jaunty keys wriggle beside whistles, organs and El Khatib as he coos: "You're my perfect little Penny," like some obsessed Big Bang Theory fanatic. 'House On Fire' is a naked track - just El Khatib and his quivering electric guitar for the most part - with Pixies tendencies. It's not as obtuse or provocative as Frank Black et al., but it's got that threadbare imperfection and coarse melodies. Beginning as psych-funk, 'Can't Win 'Em All''s biggest lures are the massive modern alt rock chorus and grooving, earthy bass licks. Chimes and effect-sodden axes riffs pepper the cut. At about 1:45, Talking Head's 'Psycho Killer' shines through unmistakably. Only briefly, mind, as the song digresses into a meaty solo-wail/chaos shortly after.

El Khatib's second effort is good. Like GRMLN earlier this year, his take on nostalgic styles and noises of a bygone era are both effortless and poised for the sunshine. It's polished, yet still retains a bite, an edge and a vital essence that keeps you coming back for more, time after time.