You might not be able to get past the prog-ish allusions on the Shalabi Effects debut CD. A by now ubiquitous image gleaned from the Hubble telescope adorns the cover. Recalling some of those prog albums of old, while at the same time pointing us onward and upward to some great beyond, it’s a fitting visual gloss on what’s inside. Don’t let that sway you, though. Listen just close enough and you’ll hear the cosmos. Honest.
Alien8 is showing its rock pretensions here, tapping into Montreal’s long love affair with improv and prog. The Shalabi Effect brings these worlds, and their mutual love of all things expansive, together in a two CD extended jam. Filling out two-hours plus, it’s definitely something to keep the midnight oil burning by (and whatever other resinous substances you might like to ignite). Though it’s more than just stoner rock with smarts.
You might not know it, but the Shalabi Effect represents an emergent trend in Montreal. Bringing together some players from Montreal’s two solitudes, French and English divisions are dissolved over the course of both these discs. In this they share much with Godspeed You Black Emperor, Montreal’s other cherished post-prog outfit.
Sam Shalabi, the man orchestrating this outing and around which thoughtful musos gather, creates a space where the tiniest sound gets precedence taking their place along side the meditative drone. East and West meld here, too. On the first cut, “Wyoming,” tablas provide much of the percussive beat, as Fripp-like riffs stretch across the track. Menace churns below the surface on “Vicious Triangle,” a minimalist cut whose meditative repetition has flashes of free-noise improv. The youthful guitar wig-out on “Aural Florida"is a nice touch, anchored neatly to the occasional power chord coming up for air. A standout cut has to be “On the Bowery,” a beautiful and graceful vocal piece that happens three-quarters of the way through the discs (you have run these things together to get the full effect). Its hard to single out one piece as they all flow evenly into one another-violin, Tibetan bowl, triangle, chimes, guitar, drums work their aural magic, coalescing into minor masterpieces dense with avant-garde mannerisms and improv genius.
Open and expansive in musical style, the band is generally among the cognoscenti known for their live shows, which are barely repeatable each taking shape around a single drone or riff. The CD presents a number of jams frozen in time, snapshots that are somewhat pale indices and static moments of something perhaps more powerful than what a digital form can represent. What that means is that it’s guaranteed you’re never going to hear the album versions of the songs live. Take that as you may.
The insert I have on my CD says the Shalabi Effect come recommended if you like Floyd, No Neck Blues Band and Taj Mahal Travellers. Whether or not you identify with these bands as taste touchstones, it is, as they say, still an album worth getting lost in.