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Pink Abyss

  Shalabi Effect  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Mr Pharmacist  

Alien8 Recordings has a lock on the weird sounds drifting through this continent. Well, they've a lock on the new psychedelic stuff at least. The label's releases chart a particular geography of sound. To these ears, it's mind music, at once background and foreground. It's both soft and harsh, with the sharp or round edges peeling their way beneath all that boring consciousness. There's usually a stringed instrument, something exotic and a computer fed thing or two greasing the ride. You can also bet that some member or ex-member of Godspeed You Black Emperor! is creeping around in the background. The label has single handedly created and kept afloat a whole sonic niche. Shalabi Effect are mighty representative of said musical scene, though possessing their own unique vibe. There's even a Godspeed guy or two hanging about.

Shalabi Effect is the child of one Steve Shalabi. He and an ever expanding group of like-minded musicos have been kicking about Montreal since 1996. (Does everybody in Montreal have a band??!!) True to the others in his talent pool, the guy has numerous spin-offs and bands. Shalabi Effect seems to be the one where Steve and company mate Middle Eastern music, North Indian sounds, Free Jazz, and electronics. Pink Abyss, their third release, is rumored to be their "pop" album.

This "pop" label seems to reflect a more structured approach than earlier albums. Before, spontaneous jamming seemed the major source of the tunes. Here, there seems to be a more compositional wellspring. It still has that improvised vibe in spots, and only a handful of the songs come close to what the rest of the world would call a tune. Early in the album, a rather delicate, haunting vocal turn by Elizabeth Anka Vajagic makes for the sort of "stick in your head" pop moment that fans of song might crave. Elsewhere, there's a shifting clutch of Eastern exotica and swirling, ebbing melodies to be had. The album seems to hover between the sounds of late night jamming and the soundtrack for some up and coming hip Arabic flick. There's a noticeable playfulness, too. Drones and soft wails sit beside bouncy guitar, making for an interesting juxtaposition of sounds.

In all, this is an enjoyable listen. It is more an album wide experience than a set of songs, and in that lies its strengths. It seems to unfold and go places over time. It ain't to the point then gone. Weak spots are the occasional lack of focus, and a pastoral fuzziness that makes interest a bit of work. This is usually a meander before arriving type of album, but at a few spots I don't think we get where we need to go.

Alien8 and their League of Extraordinary Musicians manage to save the head from boredom again. The areas Shalabi Effect explore, at this point at least, bear much further exploration. I look forward to more from these pioneers and the rest that follow.

Related Links:
  The Trial of St. Orange, a 2002 release by Shalabi Effect.  

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