his is Shalabi Effect’s attempt at a pop album, but Sam Shalabi and crew make pop tunes the way Emir Kusturica makes blockbuster films. Though there may be accessible elements, it is still too ‘out there’ for mass appeal. This is just fine for me, because musical snobbery can be paired with integrity and talent to make damn fine sounds. The talent here? Will Eizlini is on percussion, Anthony Seck plays guitar, St.Onge handles upright bass and Sam Shalabi plays oud and electronics; accompanied by a vast cast of musicians on strings, wind instruments and vocals. Pink Abyss, a blatant sexual reference if I’ve ever heard one, (with track titles like ‘deep throat’ it becomes obvious) is deliciously intense, messy in parts and altogether satisfying. Much of the music on this album could do justice to scoring an erotica movie with a Middle Eastern motif. The listener can almost envision bejeweled courtesans whisper, “Are you thoroughly pleasured, my Amir?”—with the exception of the final track, “Kinder Surprise” which is akin to finding a copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in a bordello.
“Kinder Surprise” is a surprise; the sound of a film projector runs for the duration, the sound of children playing is audible and a simple keyboard melody interplays with wistful guitar instilling one with a painful sense of sentimentality—not an emotion a listener wants to go thorough while staring at a woman’s naked ass on the back of this CD.
As for the rest of this album, a cinematic style covers a range of moods including exuberance, tension, darkness, joy, sensuousness and mystery with only one awkward sounding piece—“Deep Throat”. “Bright Guilty World” is jazzy in a Twin-Peaks-era-Badalamenti-esque sort of way with sexy brush strokes followed by skittering, impatient drum rolls while Elizabeth Vajagic wails away longingly. Next up is “Shiva Pria”, comprised of clarinet and strings that convey a sense of tension and quivering, sweaty palmed anticipation serving as a lead to the next track. “Blue Sunshine” is the climactic piece, a joyous rhythmic romp with all contributors participating; the strings, horns, guitars, electronics, flutes and drums release a rush of messy exuberance. “Iron and Blood” starts off like a lazy orgy wherein various singers sing listlessly in a post-coital kind of listlessness, but the introduction of vigorous guitars and hand percussion infuses a rush of blood, heat and sweat into the song, making the track active. This builds to another musical orgy that culminates in a satisfying musical climax. It’s too bad the vocalists fade out near the beginning, instead of joining in to help take the mood over the top.
Pink Abyss is a departure from anything Shalabi Effect have attempted before, as each song seems to take on a storytelling narrative. Releases like the Shalabi Effect, and The Trial of St.Orange were too non-linear and adventurous to be considered anywhere near the realm of pop. I’m going out on a limb here, but their more linear style may be due to the inclusion of Charles Spearin who is a member of Do Make Say Think. Though Spearin only plays trumpet, the narrative style of the Do Makes is the major difference from previous efforts—particularly on tracks like “Kinder Surprise” which sounds a lot like “Chinatown” from &Yet;&Yet;.
Pink Abyss has competent musicianship, a distinct story telling quality with ethno-Middle-Eastern flavoring like black tea, Turkish style coffee and long tokes from a shesha pipe. It is nice to hear an adept band experiment with other forms of expression rather than just pure experimentalism.
Reviewed by: I. Khider
Reviewed on: 2004-01-16