he Trial of St-Orange plays out as a single piece of music, which is divided into three movements. The album is not a typical piece of drone rock drudgery however; Sam Shalabi and co. have some tricks up their sleeves. The group’s membership, for example, rather than consisting of three guitarists, two bassists and five percussionists (half of whom stand around doing nothing until the NOIZE) is made up of guitarist Anthony Seck, and multi-instrumentalists Sam Shalabi, Alexandre St. Onge, and Will Eizlini.
The traditional drone rock build-up has been replaced by a more intellectual approach. Songs build themselves around the tension in the continuously mutating motives. For example, the guitar in opener ‘Sundog Ash’ begins as a simple line, but as synths and found percussion grow around it and eventually overtake the tune, the melody takes on a different meaning. This group is one of remarkably talented musicians, they know how to make sounds complement each other and fight for control of your attention. Shalabi Effect want you to think that they are a ‘free improvisation’ ensemble, but if they are, this is some of the most structured ‘free improvisation’ I’ve ever heard.
You see, The Trial of St-Orange is surprisingly cohesive. Each track works up enough depth to be an adequate introduction to the next, as well as a great epilogue for the preceding track. ‘Mr. Titz (the Revelator)’, for example, adds a touch of melody to clean up the nearly overpowering static of ‘St. Orange’. From there, it flows nicely (thanks to some adept electronic work) into ‘One Last Glare’; an ambient piece that maintains a calm detachedness through its nearly six-minute duration, displaying some beautifully played hand percussion.
Just when you think you have Shalabi Effect pegged as some new age hippie drone group, that’s when they hit you. A troubled and skeletal pattern, recalling some of the creepier Matmos pieces, signifies the beginning of the second track, ‘St. Orange’. ‘Mr. Titz (the Revelator)’ breathes quite a bit of energy into the disc with the use of almost-inappropriate-but-not-quite techno loops. Elsewhere, puzzling sounds will have you wondering exactly what made them (that creaking/blowing sound in ‘Sister Sleep’, it sounds like a cross between a cow and a rusty saw).
While The Trial of St-Orange isn’t the most bombastic listen at first, the patterns and their eventual results pull you in. It takes a while for the genre-denying Shalabi Effect to fully kick in, but when it does, what a feeling.
Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01