The Shalabi Effect – The Pink Abyss

The Shalabi Effect
The Pink Abyss

Broken Social Scene. Stars. The Dears. The Unicorns. In the last few months, Canadian bands have garnered sick amounts of press, impressing critics with fresh takes on old indie rock formulas. Curiously absent from these discussions are Montreal collectives like Do Make Say Think and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As recently as one year ago, these bands – once the toast of the indie-rock nation – were still the only thing going in Canada. Peripheral projects like A Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire to Flames were Tortoise-like in their ability to draw members from all over a thriving music scene. Now, however, these post-rock behemoths are barely mentioned amongst the fresh-faced newcomers.
The reason? Well, there are probably a couple, but you can chalk at least part of the reason up to complacency: many of the bands in Montreal’s post-rock community have started to sound same-y. Godspeed’s last album, Yanqui U.X.O., was a fine distillation of the band’s style, but it failed to offer anything new. ASMZ has had similar problems, and while Do Make Say Think’s latest, Winter Hymn, Country Hymn, Secret Hymn, was arguably the band’s strongest yet, it hardly reeked of originality. Even KC Accidental, pet project of members of the wildly successful Broken Social Scene, has been lost amidst a generic post-rock haze. So what has become of the Shalabi Effect, one of Montreal’s most eclectic, original, and inconsistent bands?
Sam Shalabi, a frequent contributor to many of the bands listed above, has never totally fit in the Montreal scene. His band’s eponymous first album was a twisted, jammy affair with strong Eastern styling. It was nothing if not intriguing, but the band’s noodling ultimately got in the way of a promising record. 2002’s The Trial of St. Orange was a different matter entirely, capitalizing on all of the band’s potential: it remains an enthralling, unique listen, one that shrouds the room with a vague mysticism. Needless to say, the Shalabi Effect has very little in common with their post-rock peers, save for geography and a tendency to extend song lengths.
The Pink Abyss, the band’s latest full-length, is yet another new step for the group. Proclaimed to be the Effect’s “pop album,” Abyss is easily the most focused of the band’s work: the songs are shorter, more condensed, and less thematically intimidating. Some tracks contain vocals. There is less drone. This is neither good nor bad, but merely new. At the very least, the band can’t be accused of repeating itself.
“Bright Guilty World” is emblematic of the shift. A bubbling drum roll opens the song and keeps an uneven pace throughout. A horn bleats in the background, and a bass guitar actually places a repeating riff. The female voice is most arresting: shy and haunted, her very presence represents at least a slight upheaval of the band’s aesthetic. After a few listens, though, she blends in, and her voice takes its right place in the sonic palette of the album. “Blue Sunshine,” meanwhile, is very nearly propulsive. Chiming guitars rise above the static, and a trumpet plays a clean, memorable melody over the tidal pull of the rhythm. It’s a refreshing, memorable moment.
Many of the basic elements of the band’s sound remain intact: the Eastern melodies and instrumentation, the electric blips, and the ominous, eerie attitude that has pervaded the group’s earlier releases. The opening track, “Message From the Pink Abyss,” opens with several minutes of reptilian flutes and swelling static. “I Believe in Love,” despite its pop-culture title, is decidedly difficult, harkening back to the old days of trembling noise jams. “We’ll Never Make it out of Here Alive” is a fine distillation of old and new. The track draws heavily from Shalabi’s Eastern style, but it’s more focused and decipherable than anything from previous records.
Ultimately, however, very few tracks on their album will stake a claim in anyone’s memory. Aside from the horn gusto of “Blue Sunshine,” Pink Abyss is a largely homogenous affair, despite lacking the unifying atmosphere of St. Orange. This isn’t to say that it’s a wholly wasted exercise. At the very worse, Sam Shalabi and Co. keep things moving, and further experiments should only yield positive results for a troupe as talented as Shalabi Effect. Abyss is ultimately more interesting than much of what the Montreal scene has put forth in the past couple of years, but it’s not the record that will make critics and fans turn their eyes back north.