Shalabi Effect: The Trial of St-Orange

Matt Cibula

Shalabi Effect

The Trial of St-Orange

Label: Alien8 Recordings

I am a fairly generous music writer, I think; I'm open to a lot of different music, and I try to accept each record on its own terms without grafting a lot of extraneous bullshit on top of it. I say that so I can say this:

Shalabi Effect's album The Trial of St-Orange really pisses me off. I don't really have anything against instrumental "post-rock" music the way some other critics do-has anyone else noticed how cool it is to hate Sigur Ros these days? -- and I have been really intrigued with how big Montreal's Godspeed You Black Emperor! and its many offshoots and sidebands like A Silver Mt. Zion are getting, all without even hardly making a vocal peep. So I was psyched to hear the new one from Shalabi Effect, another Montreal-based non-singing group. Maybe, I thought, we are in the middle of some big Quebecois movement . . . and it'll be like I'm covering it as it's happening!

Which was ridiculous on two levels. One: Godspeed You Black Emperor! and A Silver Mt. Zion are orchestral ensembles, whereas Sam Shalabi leads a four-piece band. (Other members: Anthony Seck, Will Eitzani, and Alexandre St. Onge, from whose surname the album must be named. And isn't that cute.) Secondly, GYBE! and ASMZ develop their beautifully sad melodies and their epic themes through shifting dynamics and an unfailing sense of drama, whereas Shalabi Effect . . . well, they just don't.

This record is 50 minutes of nothing. Of the seven tracks, five of them are the kind of tuneless rhythmless slogs that give tuneless rhythmless slogs a bad name, and the other three are almost worse, because they show how good these guys could be if they really tried. Let's be positive first: "Mr. Titz (The Revelator)" is, despite its immature title (because of its awesome title?), a great electro-acoustic jam with some real substance. And the next piece, "Our Last Glare", continues things with some tabla-ish percussion and some trancey guitar lines. I like these two pieces, especially right next to each other; they feel related, organic, real. (Oh yeah, the "hidden track"/coda thing at the end is cute, in a I'm-tuning-my-guitar sort of way.)

But the rest of the damned thing is just no good for me. I don't mind if songs don't follow "traditional" outlines; I don't mind if songs take a while to reveal themselves; I don't even mind songs that mess with the listener. What I do mind are songs like "Sundog Ash" and "Saint Orange" and "Uma" that throw their lack of direction right in the listener's face. When the only point is that there is no point, things better be pretty damned compelling for me to make that leap, and these tracks don't share a single reference point with me. Hey, I listen to Acid Mothers Temple and Miles Davis' Get Up With It on a regular basis, but I hear something there that I don't hear in Shalabi Effect. These songs are only about their utter pointlessness: they are constructed randomly, meta-randomly, selfreflexively-randomly -- and there is no emotion here and no concept I can tell and no pretty sounds for me to care much about.

I also have a hard time getting behind the 17-minute closer "A Glow in the Dark", which fails to show any signs of life AT ALL -- just industrial noises, a minor pulse, and some creepy (and massively condescending) human and pig noises -- I couldn't make this stuff up, people. I had a couple of flashes of hope here, especially around the 13-minute mark when the guitar riff seemed to want to come in and we hear a repeat of those tables . . . but 'twas all in vain, as that section is done three minutes later. It's arch, it's "clever", it's boring as all hell, and I'm not listening to it again.

Worst moment: "Sister Sleep". The lead instrument on this track is -- okay, I don't know what it is, but it sounds like a manatee dying slowly. No: it sounds like a circular saw. No, I've figured it out: it's the noise you make in a fast-food restaurant by moving your straw up and down to rub it against the plastic lid. You know that noise, I know that noise, we all do -- and it's unpleasant at any speed. My dad did that noise to embarrass us in Burgerville USA when I was a kid, and now I have to listen to this shit? Forget about it.

I really am a nice and even-handed critic, but there are some things that just don't wash with me. One of those things, apparently, is when obviously talented musicians have this much contempt for their listeners. Yeah, I'm probably uncool for expecting my experimental music to have a thesis to prove or disprove. I'll have to live with that. But there's no reason you have to live with this record.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.