Release Date: Feb 26, 2013
Record label: Paper Bag Records
After two albums of excellent, sad Italo-disco made by the team of Johan Agebjörn and the vocalist known as Sally Shapiro under the name Sally Shapiro, the duo must have realized it was time to adjust the formula just a bit in order to keep things sounding right. Both 2007's Disco Romance and 2009's My Guilty Pleasure successfully stuck very close to the template of placing cheap- and icy-sounding synths over somewhat corny electro-disco beats with Shapiro's sweet and nearly artless vocals on top singing painfully melancholy lyrics about heartbreak of all kinds. 2013's Somewhere Else doesn't stray far from their established sound -- the duo aren't crazy enough to ditch such a distinctive approach, and frequent collaborator Roger Gunnarsson is on hand to co-write four songs -- but they bring in some new ideas, new beats, and a handful of interesting collaborators to help make the album feel fresh.
If Sally Shapiro is good at anything, it’s aptly naming albums. With wispy techno beats leading the way, Somewhere Else, the Swedish duo’s (Shapiro and Johan Agebjörn) third studio album, is a journey to a distant land—a heaven of music for anime characters hosting raves on clouds with rainbows for dance floors. Shapiro’s enchanting whisper of a voice guides you along, only occasionally bringing you back to earth with lyrics that speak of lost love and struggle.
Well, this new Sally Shapiro record is a bit of a hoot. Building on the foundations of the duo’s previous Italo-disco homages, the mysterious Swedes are back, blurring the line between that genre and its close relative, Hi-NRG, to winning effect. As a general observation, we have here a bunch of strong, well-structured danceables, brimming with powerful melodies and terrific beats.
When the materials and inspiration are composed of first love, first love can prove a tricky foundation to build upon. Swedish duo Sally Shapiro (he, Johan Agebjörn, she, anonymous and adopting the band name for a pseudonym) fabricated their debut Disco Romance out of a shared passion for shy crushes and the cool, controlled Italo Disco of Giorgio Moroder and Valerie Dore. Hardened critics fell hard: a pixie dreamgirl with no manic side whatsoever cooing rollerskating songs about holding hands and romantic longing over Autobahn basslines and sweetly arpeggiated synths.
Sally ShapiroSomewhere Else[Paper Bag Records; 2013]By Josh Becker; February 25, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIt's been a while. Four years, in fact, since the Swedish disco duo, Sally Shapiro, released their last LP, My Guilty Pleasure, which itself was not bad but failed to reach the euphoric pop peaks of their 2007 debut, Disco Romance. So this third album is perhaps make-or-break for singer Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn.
In the indie music world, genres are a matter of fashion. Some are perpetual underdogs, yet eminently rehabilitatable, rife with schizmed sub-genres that remain sources of cred (metal, I’m looking at you). Revivals may succeed (hi, minimal wave), but to gain attention, to be worthy of critical and press consideration, they need to be seen to always already tap into a preexisting zeitgeist or to represent an originally-authentic moment.
Don’t remember Sally Shapiro? A quick re-cap: the Swedish synthpop duo, comprised of Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn, emerged in the middle of the ‘noughties’ with plenty of intrigue surrounding them. This is largely because Shapiro herself is an alias; she’s appeared on their artwork but her real name is still hidden behind the pseudonym. She rarely does interviews and live dates have been few and far between, including a DJ tour that was cancelled as soon as it started.
While it's tempting to connect Sally Shapiro's reticent persona to her fragile, vanishing music-- supposedly she’s too shy to perform on stage or let producer Johan Agebjörn join her in the studio-- it's a red herring; some of music's most extroverted voices belong to reclusive singers, and her albums from Disco Romance on down are just as easily explained as the product of a ghost-girl persona as that of a Giorgio Moroder fan getting really into Tigermilk one night. Somewhere Else isn't quite a departure from Sally Shapiro's last two albums, but in among the sequencers and identikit drums are instruments from a more muted palette: flute, saxophone, and beats that skitter rather than shimmer. The evolution was probably inevitable.
Back in 2007, an indie hit came out of nowhere and from an unlikely source. Disco Romance, released that year in North America, was the debut album from the Swedish duo of producer Johan Agebjörn and a reclusive singer going by the pseudonym Sally Shapiro. Disco Romance also introduced (or reintroduced, if you were the savvy dance-minded type) the populace to Italo disco, an electronic dance music that became popular across Europe in the mid-1980s.
Ah, the remix album. One thing about remixes: they tend to take what was a great three- or four-minute pop song and then bludgeon it by doubling its length and adding all sorts of unnecessary accouterments. Rare is the remix you hear that is better than the original. That’s what makes Elsewhere so daring.
Sally Shapiro, or whatever her name really is, defines amateur in the literal and truest sense of the word. No, that’s not a backhanded way of saying that the Shapiro’s cuddly disco-pop is something less than professional grade, but rather a way to describe just what a labor of love making music must be for the camera-shy pseudonymous act. Under a self-imposed witness protection program, Shapiro has always forged a catchy, listener-friendly sound that could stand on its own, since the person behind the performer has eschewed the trappings of the fame game and refused to sacrifice her privacy for the sake of promotion, even at the expense of a bigger public profile and better sales.
The third album from the Swedish pop duo of Sally Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn expands their repertoire from Italo-disco into pastoral twee pop, electro-funk and easy listening with help from outside producers Le Prix, Anoraak and Electric Youth (of Drive soundtrack fame). Their 2006 debut, Disco Romance, established the limelight-averse Shapiro as one of the more enjoyable voices in pop. Her singing has a coolly plaintive, porous quality that can suit a variety of genres, but she also has a conversational delivery and taste for whimsical melodies, which play out like a cross between R&B siren Cassie and Altered Images' Clare Grogan.
How much is there to a honey-suckle voice. Three albums in, the true identity of Swedish singer Sally Shapiro still remains a well-kept secret, yet with each succeeding release it also becomes its least interesting aspect. It makes one question the value we put into the artists we know - even if they affirm their authenticity to us, what ultimately should matter is if we connect with the package at hand on a personal level, right? Besides, the foremost task of a disc jockey is mainly to provide a romping good time.
Playing up her status as the robotic appendage of a single producer (musician Johan Agebjörn), “Sally Shapiro” has attempted to pull off a tricky proposition, deflating the allure of the pop star while siphoning its mystique into other aspects of her persona. This felt disingenuous from the start, compounded by the duo's quasi-corporate synchronicity in pursuit of a mass-appeal sound, combining morose Italo disco with bubbly Scandinavian pop, obsessive studio tinkering with simple, repetitive song structures, and thudding dance beats with gloomy shoegaze lyricism. The results were underwhelming, and continue to be, as Somewhere Else is stocked with the same type of wispy bedroom electronica that defined their two previous albums.
Electronic music has always received a bad rap for feeling cold and detached, and Swedish disco duo Sally Shapiro are a clear example of such. Somewhere Else finds producer Johan Agebjörn and vocalist Shapiro back together for the first time since 2009's My Guilty Pleasure and little has changed, with the duo hitting an icy plateau. Lost somewhere between Italo-disco and Scandinavian twee pop, Somewhere Else fails to cohere into anything interesting.