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coverpic flag Canada - Full Moon 67 - 03/28/02

Shalabi Effect
The Trial of St-Orange

To some extent their are two poles to a music collection: familiar, comfort music that gets played to make you feel a certain way or when you're in a particular mood; and music that challenges you, that you listen to when you want to question who you are and what music means. The former type cradles you in its never-changing arms; the latter sounds different on every listen.

I have some albums that I don't even like very much, but they're interesting, so I return them to try and figure out why they were made, what the band/artist are trying to say, and why the hell I was drawn to them in the first place. Instrumental music is challenging simply because it lacks the interpretative context of a lyrical focus. But I like to be challenged, and when I saw this CD reviewed on the excellent Pitchfork site I thought I'd give it a go.

To step out into the unknown takes courage, and this feeling of freedom can be terrifying. Plus, spending your hard-earned record-buying money on something that you haven't heard is a big risk. The trouble is that music as open-ended and strange as that made by Shalabi Effect is difficult to write about objectively. This album has, in turn, made me angry at how awkward it is, thrilled by how new it sounds, made me fall asleep, and questioned the boundary between composed and improvised music.

Do we push the boundaries of sound because we're running out of places to go, or because we're heading in a direction we feel we should be going? Are we carving out a tiny niche because that's where we feel we belong or because that's where we're forced to eke out an existence? These must be questions the musicians in Shalabi Effect ask themselves, and I haven't a clue what the answers are. Do this band make these sounds because no one else does, or is this their collective soul they're committing to tape, honestly and beautifully?

It has to be said that are some beautiful moments on this album. But why call a song "Mr Titz (The Revelator)" when the other songs are called lovely things like "Sundog Ash" and "A Glow In The Dark". Inexplicable. The music is strange, initially forbidding, but continues to surprise. Its stubborn way of not sounding like anything else I've heard is simultaneously thrilling and infuriating. Largely Eastern-tinged in timbre, the sounds are loosely weaved, but in glorious patterns. It's all handled very skilfully. The way the breakbeats in "Mr Titz" are used without making me recoil at the suggestion of 'fusion' or 'beat science' or other such tasteful coffee-table bollocks is genius in itself. And the sub-bass and jittery rhythm in that particular song are ace.

The disc is broadly split into three parts, each subtly evolving with Eastern drums and string instruments, field recordings and electronics. Being from Montreal, Canada, there are also some mumbled French voices that act as another strange ingredient in the mix.

Overall I haven't a clue what this music is communicating to me, but it keeps me coming back for more. Be wary, but keep an open mind, and you could be lost in it too.

Copyright © 2002 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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