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Sam Shalabi, "Eid"

cover image The looming silhouettes of the pyramids on the cover give some idea of what to expect on Sam Shalabi's latest release. Born in Egypt and finished in Canada, Eid is an eclectic and ecstatic album. Each track sounds like it was pulled from a local radio station in Cairo yet no two pieces sound like they came from the same station. Shalabi fuses Western and Arabic music without straying into trite, watered-down fusion territories.

 

Alien8

Sam Shalabi - Eid

Given the recent explosion in interest in Arabic, African and Middle Eastern music thanks to labels like Sublime Frequencies and the almost rabid reissue schedule of '70s Turkish psychedelica, it is hard to not compare Shalabi to these seemingly never ending scores of artists. I must admit, he compares quite favourably as he hits a lot of buttons that a lot of these other releases do not. Firstly, the quality of the recording is obviously far superior and secondly, the druggy nature of the music captures my ear to a far stronger degree than many of the Turkish bands that have been unearthed in recent years.

"Jessica Simpson" takes the white hot guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix and White Light/White Heat era Lou Reed and transposes it to another continent. (Take the quotation marks out of that sentence and you get a dizzying thought.) I do not know if Shalabi himself plays this solo, as there is a list as long as my arm of performers in the sleeve notes, but whoever is hitting those guitar strings knows what they are doing. This is followed by "Eid," a very different piece altogether. Repetitive melodies go in and out of sync with each other, stringed instruments sounding like they are bending space around them. The effect is mesmerising on a number of levels.

Unfortunately, the album dips in quality with a couple of somewhat pedestrian pieces. In fairness, anything coming after that title track is always going to come off worse. However, it is not all downhill as Shalabi brings things back on track with "Billy the Kid." Elizabeth Anka Vajajick's vocals sound strong but in danger of falling apart, like there is only so much emotion that can be forced through a human throat.

Overall, Eid is a patchy but frequently brilliant album. When it is good, it burns like an immense bonfire and at its weakest it at least still gives off enough light and heat to keep the listener close. Its huge cast of players (over 30 contributors) is both its greatest asset and its downfall; dozens of styles and instruments are used but even if this approach works, it causes the album to stumble from time to time. Still, it is difficult to let these faults mar the better points of Eid. On the strength of its best tracks, this album is well worth investigating, even if it is a track by track dissection from an online download vendor.

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Review of the Day

Tyondai Braxton, "History That Has No Effect"
JMZ Records
Tyondai Braxton has an intimate relationship with his guitar pedals. Every sound Braxton makes on this CD - primarily using guitar and voice - is processed through various combinations of a bevy of effects. The nine tracks on this disc are surprisingly diverse, and I imagine there's a good deal of improvisation going on. The first three tracks use only voice and guitar pedals, but you wouldn't know it - "(A Sentence Worth a Thousand Words) Great Mass" is a dense atmospheric soundscape and "Light Pitch Black, I'm Gonna Start Shining Bright!!!" is beat-heavy minimal electronica (probably the most impressive use of beat-boxing in a long time). A disc full of these voice experiments would still be interesting, but things quickly take a turn as the guitar becomes a focal instrument: there's the anthemic post-rock of "Raise Yr Arms & Cross Them", featuring a violist and cellist, and then there's the excellent "The Violent Light Through Falling Shards," where Braxton's guitar stirs up echoes of Charles Bullen over beat-boxed industrial beats and siren-like noise. In fact, the entire disc is reminiscent of This Heat, not so much in sound (though at times the comparison can be made), but in application; Braxton's hands-on computerless approach to making layered music reflects This Heat's experiments using traditional instruments combined with the live manipulation of tape loops. The final two tracks on the album feature Braxton's singing, a voice that at times almost sounds like (dare I say it) Peter Gabriel. Of these two tracks, "Struck Everywhere" is particularly engaging: a 10-minute, free-flowing melodic piece bedded on a ride cymbal loop. This disc pretty accurately replicates Braxton's live show, where he sits on the floor with a guitar and mic in the middle of a sea of wires, constantly playing, singing, and fiddling with his pedals. He's definitely got it down to an art, as I'm pretty sure all his sounds are created on the spot, with no samples. I wouldn't be surprised if most or all of the intensely-layered tracks on this disc were done in one take without overdubs. It's really an impressive disc.

 

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