Album Review: Joseph Shabason – The Fellowship

[Western Vinyl/Telephone Explosion; 2021]

There are albums that seem to last a lifetime; and they feel like one – but in a good way! As a dweller of a large metropolis, I have been stuck in my fair share of traffic jams, feeling as if the worm-like lines of cars will never come to an end – but they do! Only have you wind up in yet another traffic jam. For a while now, I have had this idea that some micro-scale lifetime does in fact pass in the time that it takes me to cross my city in a cab: it begins the second I enter the car and ends the moment I step out. It was during such trips that I started thinking of albums that represent such a weird concept as a micro-scale lifetime; albums that I would listen to on those rides. Joseph Shabason’s The Fellowship is just that kind of record.

In its scope, The Fellowship actually spans multiple lifetimes: his and his parents’. Joseph’s parents were traditionally Jewish but, before he was born, became part of an insular Islamic community called The Fellowship, which meant a difficult childhood for the artist. In talking about this record, Shabason avoids talking about the music, but rather shares the feelings he put into it, denoting the various periods of his parents’ lives as well as his own. This approach leaves the listener to make up their own decisions as to whether or not the artist achieves at conveying these complex emotions.

From where I stand, he certainly does. Listening to The Fellowship, having resolved that I would not read up on it until I got to reviewing, I felt a strange sense of nostalgia. I am quite nostalgic by nature, but when it comes to music, I get nostalgic about something reminiscent of my past — music I would listen to in those days. Obviously, there was no way for me to have heard this album until recently, and yet, pictures of my own childhood and adolescent years started popping into my head as I listened to The Fellowship, which made me feel very connected to the music. After I read Shabason’s own explanation of what this album represents, I got a snippet of an understanding as to why I felt nostalgic about my own life, and at the same time felt an even greater appreciation for this work, as it made me think about my own memories, while not having anything to do with me.

Sonically, this album is very diverse, but what’s most interesting is that the link one feels between tracks is not due to perfect transitions or technical wizardry, but rather something ineffable, something almost spiritual. With Shabason wreathing his signature sax with a plethora of flutes, guitars, synths and percussive tones, the wide range of sounds and approaches certainly helps in creating the sense of a lifetime being told without any words. Most people, throughout their lives, look back at their past experiences and have a strange feeling as if it wasn’t even them — a dissonance between one’s present and one’s past. Shabason’s use of diverse instrumentation has just that effect. You almost cannot believe that these tracks are on the same album, yet somewhere inside, it makes some weird sense to you, just like thinking back on memories.

Joseph Shabason’s The Fellowship is at the very least hypnotic. Even though other listeners will not necessarily feel the same sensations as I did while listening, I can almost guarantee a mesmerizing experience. Something about The Fellowship makes one want to listen to it again and again, but it’s not something that can be put to words, it needs to be experienced — just like a lifetime and the memories made in the process.