Recommended Listening: Joseph Shabason - The Fellowship
Losing religion is surely one of the most disorienting experiences that one can endure. And this transformation is so much more complex than simply accepting a different version of the way things are. Faith shapes identity. It can act as a base for deep friendships and provide community support. Our experiences with organized religion color so many parts of who we are and how we move through the world, whether we are aware of these influences or not. Separating oneself with a core piece of identity like religion may result in confusion and alienation, but also has the potential to allow catharsis and clarity.
A quick editorial sidebar: I have never considered myself religious, or even very spiritual at all. However, I was raised in the Mennonite church, attended Mennonite school, and many of my friends to this day are former or practicing Mennonites. So maybe you could call me a cultural Mennonite? So while I never "lost" my religion (since I never really had it in the first place), the concept behind Joseph Shabason's new album, The Fellowship, caught my attention and drew me in. Across eight instrumental tracks, Shabason presents an autobiography, specifically zeroing on his evolving and gradually unraveling relationship with religion. Our histories and experiences are different, of course, but since I've existed as an atheist in a religious environment for most of my life, I was curious to hear Shabason's story.
That disequilibrium mentioned in the opening sentence is very much present on The Fellowship. The album's narrative arc follows Shabason from his upbringing in an Islamic and Jewish dual-faith household, through his rocky teenage and college years, and finally into adulthood - where he has been able to reflect and finally "deprogram" many on his deeply-ingrained ways of thinking. Like any compelling story, Shabason's tale includes a number of highs and lows, moments of chaos and calm. The title track, 0-13, and 15-19 are standouts - all warm and fuzzy like happy memories. The artist's soft keyboard tones, spare percussion, and muted horns give these songs their glow. Andrew Wasylyk's Last Sunbeams of Childhood was one of DC's favorite tracks of 2020, and there are shades of that sound here. But Escape From New York, 13-15, and Comparative World Religions break up the The Fellowship's mellower jams. Gamelan song structures and instrumental noodling suggest tumult, and hint at more difficult moments in Shabason's spiritual journey. The return to calm on album closer So Long makes us feel that despite these hardships, Shabason's story ends on a positive note.
The beauty of a wordless autobiography is that the reader (or in this case, listener) gets to use a fair bit of imagination to form a clear and satisfying beginning + middle + end, or instead, be okay with an incomplete story - closing the figurative book with lingering questions. Whichever type of listener you are, be sure to carve out time to sit with The Fellowship from start to finish. You can find it for streaming and purchase through Western Vinyl or on the artist's Bandcamp page here. Catch a sample below before clicking away, if you're curious.