Shalabi Effect Pink Abyss

[Alien8; 2004]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: experimental, minimal
Others: Collections of Colonies of Bees, David Grubbs

Although often difficult to accomplish, it has always given me great pleasure to review Shalabi Effect's albums. I've also gained great pleasure in listening to their works when I need an impromptu escape from reality. The same can also be said for their latest effort, titled Pink Abyss. The Trial of St-Orange and self-titled Shalabi Effect, its two predecessors, are still as uniquely profound as anything I've heard in quite some time. So, when I read Pink Abyss was being labeled as the band's “pop record,” I knew something very special was about to happen. I was very curious to see where it would lead them from the previous sounds of swamps and outer space that had become their signature sound.

Sam Shalabi's name has become synonymous with highly euphoric music, particularly when he works alone (see Osama and On Hashish). The reality of Shalabi's solo material, however, is it can often be tremendously challenging to listen to. This is not the case with Pink Abyss, because it's actually the most controlled album he and his band mates have created. It provides us with a painless accessibility that was not always so abundant before. The presence of a few extra musicians, including vocalist Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Godspeed You! Black Emperor members, and various other Canadian artists, allows the collective to dig deeper and explore greater options in a collaborative environment than before.

As I listened to Pink Abyss and perused the artwork for the first time, I couldn't help but think of how much fun it would've been to witness the details of their recording process. The album begins with a very nice experimental track that hints at a lot of the individual sounds we've heard before from them. It then blossoms into “Bright Guilty World,” a Lynch-like drone that has beautiful jazzy elements with Vajagic's vocals. The songs all lead into each other which make the album appear to be one long track. Once the song “Blue Sunshine” arrives, we are given a first-hand look into the pop elements we were promised within the album. There's even a guest appearance here when Broken Social Scene's Charles Spearin contributes a joyful trumpet to the song. “Iron and Blood” is the album's centerpiece, and is one of only two tracks to extend over eight minutes long. Anyone familiar with Shalabi Effect's earlier work knows that their songs usually extend way past that length of time. Nonetheless, the song is an all-out jam session that becomes the most passionate moment here. The rest of the album remains cohesive and rarely travels too far away from the fact that this is a pop recording.

Ultimately, Pink Abyss is a successful accomplishment for Shalabi Effect and the Alien8 label. Each song is very well put together, and shows once again that Sam Shalabi is still an artist that has his own distinctive sound. He obviously has the knowledge and vision to lead anyone who collaborates with him on his improvisational projects a step further than they might have otherwise traveled. Pink Abyss’ precise attention to detail and perfect balance of experimentation is the key factor in why this is such a remarkable album. While this may be the bands claim to “pop” fame, it's still very similar to their previous work and a very nice addition to their already impeccable list of albums.

1. Message From the Pink Abyss
2. Bright Guilty World
3. Shiva Priva
4. Blue Sunshine
5. Iron and Blood
6. I Believe in Love
7. Imps
8. Deep Throat
9. We'll Never Make It Out of Here Alive
10. Kinder Surprise