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Shalabi Effect - Pink Abyss

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Artist: Shalabi Effect

Album: Pink Abyss

Label: Alien8

Review date: Jul. 14, 2004

Named for guitarist, electronic dabbler and oud wizard Sam Shalabi, the Montreal-based, free-improv unit has quietly released two excellent albums on the Alien 8 imprint. Their third, Pink Abyss maintains the group’s mystique with a stronger adherence to pop structure, this time focusing as much on melody as meandering.

Pink Abyss sees a more refined, if still impetuous, Shalabi, with excursions taking far less time to develop. Abyss doesn’t eclipse the 50-minute mark, holding the lengthy self-indulgence – the one misstep of their bloated 131-minute debut – in check.

Shalabi Effect can pull off a convincing Arabian processional hymn one minute, then drop some '70s-soft porn muzak. There is no lack of variation, instrumentation or ideas here with ethereal chanting, flute, clarinet, upright acoustic bass, violin, viola, trad raga guitar, tabla and wafting stings mingling and merging. These tuneful elements persist unfazed by the constant battle with Shalabi’s signature atonal urges.

“Bright Guilty World” introduces the slight directional shift. As a sleepy lounge arrangement unfolds beneath the elegant Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, the Effect is closer to Sarah Vaughn than Jewelled Antler. Album apex “Blue Sunshine” comes off like the soundtrack to a perfect high beneath a perfect France sky, with Charles Spearin’s cinematic trumpet line (Do Make Say Think, Broken Social Scene) triumphantly blowing clouds of static away.

On one of the two nine-minute songs, “We’ll Never Make It Out Of Here Alive,” they settle into a frightening groove. Electronic winds screech. Drums pound like a racing heartbeat. The last third of “We’ll Never Make It …” sounds like a chase through darkened wood. (Incidentally, the back sleeve shows a naked women trekking through a forest with a sizeable knife in her hand.)

With “Kinder Surprise”, the record finally rests. Faintly-audible dashes of what sound like family home videos run alongside a film projector and meditative guitar/keyboard. Think Boards of Canada without a drum track or Mogwai minus tension/release. The surprise is that the song stays level, content at just being pretty.

By Jake O'Connell

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