When my neighbor and I were twelve or thirteen, we'd listen to Pink Floyd's Animals
, then go up to a nearby farm and sing to cows. Once we could get them to sing back, we'd stop our own singing and record them. We'd return home with our minutes of moos, and we'd play them as we tortured the keys of his dad's long-suffering piano, or battered a table with a handy shovel. Whatever frightened noise the dog made was fine too. We thought, like kids, that the secret to Animals
lay not in the craft of Gilmour, Waters and Mason, but in their gimmicks, the array of oddities and found sounds.
Had the Shalabi Effect been as random when they built their world of bass, bells, moaning pipes, Middle Eastern guitars, ding-dong bells, muffled answers to the meaning of life, spattering rain and the tears of animals, it would certainly be unique. I'd give it at least two listens as thanks for taking me away from pop a few hours, and for helping me to flash back to those childhood memories.
I credit the band for higher aspirations, and for blowing the ummagumma away from all the instrumental music Floyd ever recorded, and from all the hackneyed experimental music that's never worked itself beyond childhood games. In its seven songs and forty-nine minutes, The Trial of St Orange appears conceived after years of preparation, with reason behind every movement. It is the group's heady, tripped-up answer to nightclub dance floors ("Mr. Titz (The Revelator)") and the mind ("Saint Orange", and "One Last Glare", a true showcase for the humanity of drums). While the animal noises and shrouded voices bespeak mystery, pain and a terrorized underbelly, this is actually a smooth ride, and as calculated as a theorem written as haiku.
Musically, the Shalabi Effect have not built a Trial that exhausts the listener, but a world of beautiful precision that elicits crystal-clear hallucinations with St Orange at its center. The record's central character sits on the edge of Musicians' Heaven and Hell. He is defended by a John Cage-y character, one who understands that the Shalabi Effect could write a 300 page book describing why they had the drums scurry at a certain moment, or why they suddenly allowed the animals to sit back and breath. To their left, standing against "the Wall" from the Pink Floyd movie, is the prosecutor. It's unclear what specific performers he's defending, but they're run-of-the-mill types who exalt haphazard beauty to compensate for lack of effort or thought. The songs build this hallucination up until the bar for this type of album is lifted so high into the sky that no random-thinking hack will ever jump over it. The Trial of St. Orange, in short, is a classic of its kind.