There must be something in Sweden's water. Despite being a relatively small country with a low international profile (IKEA stores notwithstanding), Sweden has given birth to some of pop music's greatest acts. ABBA, The Cardigans, Jens Lekman, and The Knife, just to name a few. And now there's one more name to tag onto the list: Sally Shapiro, a pseudonym for singer Sally Shapiro (not her real name) and songwriter/producer Johan Agebjörn.
The duo, who are coworkers at an undisclosed day job, have never played a live show and rarely pose for pictures or grant interviews (Shapiro says she would rather pick blueberries). Yet their debut album Disco Romance, an updated take on '80s Italo disco in the vein of Glass Candy and the Chromatics, managed to pique the interest of a bevy of internet audiophiles and even win over the most difficult of critics, Pitchfork. And now, Sally Shapiro is back with a sophomore album titled My Guilty Pleasure, which Shapiro says "will hopefully make you fall in love with the person sitting next to you on the bus." Just imagine: your next boyfriend could very well be that combatant crackhead one seat over on the 38 Geary! Lucky you.
Speaking of non-traditional love matches, check out the music video for "Love in July" below. An iceburg stands between a goldfish and the whale he loves. You'll find yourself rooting for global warming.
Now picture this: You're leaving a night club in the early hours and walking home in the fog. You're wistful, a bit sedated, and brimming with love. And there's a buzz in your ear left over from the loud speakers playing pop hits on the dance floor. Sally Shapiro's music is kind of like that buzz, a mix of echoed synth beats and a candied euphoria.
I'll be honest though -- I didn't get that impression on my first listen. The set of nine songs initially sounded too similar and a bit hollow. Sally's weak voice failed to impress and the lyrics often seemed shallow and unintelligible. But something within my bones urged me to give the disc another shot. It was sometime during my second or third listen that the cheesy synthesizers and lo-fi rhythms cracked my pessimistic veneer to reveal my former self, the boy who loved Euro pop with abandon and had to buy another copy of an Ace of Base CD (coincidentally another gang of Swedes) because the original got too scratched. I guess you could say that "I saw the sign and it opened up my mind" (har har).
Sally Shapiro's latest effort has its faults. "Save Your Love" and, oddly enough, the first two singles ("Miracle" and "Love in July") lack the spark that burns on other tracks ("My Fantasy," "Let It Show" and "Moonlight Dance"). But, ultimately, My Guilty Pleasure lives up to its name. It's the kind of feel-good, bubblegum dance-pop record that you keep for yourself, a pleasure indulged in secret. At least, it starts off that way, but it won't be long before the guilt dissipates and you share your new love affair with the world. So what if your neighbors question your personal aesthetic or overall taste? You'll be too busy getting your disco on to care.
My Guilty Pleasure drops August 25, 2009.