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Since Sam Shalabi enjoyed his mini-breakout in 2004 with the Shalabi Effect's The Trial of St. Orange, the Montreal composer has explored the overlap between popular Western music and traditional Middle Eastern musics, particularly those from Egypt, the country from which Shalabi's parents hailed. These projects tend to be diffuse and ambitious: Shalabi works with dozens of musicians on long, brash drones, or plays meditative oud pieces in comfy theaters. Land of Kush, Shalabi's newest project, is pretty much par for his course, as Against the Day features nearly 30 musicians playing music inspired by 1960s Egyptian orchestral music, the album's moniker and song titles drawn from the five chapters of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. Like fellow Constellation traveler Efrim Menuck (A Silver Mt. Zion, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), who helped record and mix Against the Day, Shalabi has mostly abandoned an early formula for something with a scope and ambition that has frequently outpaced Shalabi's execution, but in ways that have continually revealed his commitment and passion to his art. Against the Day's mistakes are similarly easy to stomach: huge, lurching compositions without obvious destination or crescendo, dense, wordy narrative, a near lack of subtlety. As always, Shalabi's realized blend of traditional, popular, and avant-garde leans heavily on the avant-garde; should you happen to be familiar with 1960s Egyptian orchestral music... well, please also familiarize yourself with Popol Vuh. "The Light Over the Ranges" opens the LP with cellar-noise, a moaning voice, and keyboard twiddling; the album only occasionally sounds more normal or traditional, even when it's more decipherable. A few appended minutes of humid, cawing strings remind of Shalabi's early work, but the rhythmic, snaking of "Iceland Spar", with its awkward, sing-speak melody mostly tatter that notion. The vocals sit low in the mix, their phrasing and melody distinctly non-Western, as the singer narrates a tale of over-consumption, presumably leading to an apocalypse: "1,000 years to one day." The centerpiece of Against the Day is another vocal-oriented track, the bilious and forceful "Bilocations", which follows the imagistic story of a young woman-- written and sung by Molly Sweeney-- from her adventurous childhood ("When I was eight years old I scared away a mountain lion") to an affair with a Western businessman (some of the lyrics, too literal for their own good, grate: "You're an expert in mergers and acquisitions/ In the field of economics"). When Sweeney sings that the man doesn't "know squat about biology or immunology" it sounds both sexual and threatening, imbuing Against the Day with a frailty its huge movements sometimes lack. Shalabi's troupe doesn't always exhibit such tenderness or control. The record's final two tracks, one an amphetamine-laced guitar rave-up, the other a boondoggle of reedy noise and ponderous atmosphere, fail to capture any of Shalabi's murky psych magic. Elsewhere, portions of "Iceland Spar" and "Bilocations" make it seem as if Shalabi is trying to reverse a freighter in a small bay, so momentous and grand are the tracks. Shalabi sets his collaborators in motion but can't always steer them. This makes Against the Day an exciting and unpredictable listen, but it also assures no small amount of folly. Shalabi trades in movements, not moments, though, and Against the Day's frailties seem like a small toll to pay for his imagination.