With the gluttony of post-rock slowly beginning to eat itself, we can start to expect bands like Shalabi Effect to push out the lines of their boundaries. Maybe then it's no coincidence I've had this new release from the Montreal based collective for more than a week now, the urge to write about it though seemingly unwilling to expose itself. Even now I can't quite shake the feeling I'm forcing it, this though without any disappointment or lack of inspiration. It might be because after repeated listens I still don't feel as if I have a good grasp on this set. Unpredictable, varied, and bigger than its relatively short playing time, Pink Abyss is hard to pin down because it is every where the band has been and can be at once.
And while this is an exciting and unexpected occurrence coming from a vet like Sam Shalabi, it can sound as if you're listening to an unfocused mess though to their credit moments of listener doubt are short lived, and generally made useful in the near seamless finish of the album in its entirety.
And though label and band have been quick to dub this their "pop" album, Pink Abyss begins as opaquely and drone infected as much of Shalabi's solo work (not to mention his spectacular output with shadowy folk outfit Molasses), with the opening track a darkly jumbled collection of sounds and instrumentation that is titled aptly, "Message from the Pink Abyss".
This though soon opens up brilliantly into a faux jazz number featuring some of the warmest and sexiest lead vocals to be heard this year and most definitely by anything on Alien8. Supplied by the stunning Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, this vocalized second track titled "Bright Guilty World", is unexpected if only for its lounge foundation, slowed down funk feel of all things, and its quiet eerie power. It is this track, following on the heels of the expected opener, where you begin to hear the band's past merging with the unexplored.
"Blue Sunshine" also works in the same vein, opening from the sombre violin tremble of "Shiva Pria" like a burst of sun opening the day, and almost giddy in its joy. Of course this being Shalabi, the joy is thoughtful, haunting, and ultimately double-edged and much more meaningful because of it. With Charles Spearin of Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think a featured player on trumpet, the track truly is a pop song, though one with a triumphant feel built upon a layer of inspired sonic collages.
With more greatness in track ordering, "Blue Sunshine" melts down seamlessly through to "I Believe in Love", a track led by Shalabi's guitar playing, with only a haunted reverb swabbed chorus of vocals attempting to compete with it. Lingering, frightening, and evocative in its flourishes of eastern and psychedelic music, the song seemingly reveals itself differently with each listen, and yet remains one too hopeful in its slow rocking build-up to truly be sombre.
Later this method of intercontinental music influence is used beautifully in "Imps", once again led by a sincere yet determined guitar lead from Shalabi.
And considering the purposefully intense and reflective tone breathing through much of the album, its five-minute closing mediation ("Kinder Surprise") seems fitting. Sounding in turns hurt, relieved, and utterly devastated, Pink Abyss's finale is a sweet come down from the measured fervent intensity that comes before it, and one that sounds unlike anything else in their history.
Despite this though, it's still safe to say this music is not for everyone (though, of course, those familiar with Shalabi would probably already know this). This is a record that is altogether challenging, winning and losing in its scattered cohesion, though somehow it sounds natural, and naturally I still don't know how to write about it. Nevertheless, it would be foolish of you to overlook hearing it.