Sam Shalabi


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Over the course of a lengthy career dedicated to exploring unusual new musical avenues, there are few albums Sam Shalabi could have made that would be more of a surprise than Eid. Shalabi conceived Eid in 2006, when he was living in Cairo, Egypt, and exposed to contemporary Arabic pop music to a fuller extent than he had been while growing up (the son of Egyptian parents) in Canada. Anyone who has paid attention to the stereo playing in the back of a falafel stand has likely heard snippets of Arabic pop music, much of which tends to have a bad reputation in much the same way that "serious" music fans look down their noses at, say, Jessica Simpson. But as Shalabi explains in this album's notes, deeper listening to contemporary Arabic pop proves that it can be just as inventive, exciting, and enjoyable as the best Western pop music, and Eid is his own take on the concept. The album starts simply, with the haunting solo oud performance "Hawaga," but immediately after that brief scene-setter, the brilliant "Jessica Simpson" (speak of the devil) takes the album to an entirely different level. An ultra-melodic twang-guitar opening that recalls a surf guitar take on Mason Williams' "Classical Gas" leads into guest singer Radwan Moumneh's haunting Arabic vocals; about halfway through, a crazed feedback and noise guitar solo out of a vintage '60s heavy psych record obliterates nearly everything in its path before fading into a hypnotic drum-and-bass pulse. In its perfect melding of rock, traditional Arabic pop, and experimental elements, it's quite possibly the most entertaining eight minutes of Sam Shalabi's career. The rest of the album is perhaps a bit less immediately gratifying, but with the exception of "The Wherewithall" (a new recording of a process-based piece that has appeared on all of Shalabi's previous albums as well), each track incorporates elements of both Arabic and Western pop into Shalabi's usual free improv and noise rock experiments. What's most impressive about Eid is how organic this fusion is; rather than falling into the usual trap of treating non-Western music as "exotic," Shalabi understands fully the underlying connections between the different forms. The vocal tracks in particular -- including Elizabeth Anka Vajajick's haunted, Nico-like performance on "Billy the Kid," Lhasa de Sela's dramatic, breathy near-whisper on the driving rocker "End Game," and Montreal alt-country chanteuse Katie Moore's simply lovely croon on the gorgeous, cinematic "Billy the Kid, Pt. 2" -- are the most immediately accessible songs Sam Shalabi has ever written, and as a whole, Eid is likely his best album.

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