Sally Shapiro – Sad Cities
Sally Shapiro seemingly went into retirement in 2016. The Swedish duo, made up of the eponymous vocalist and synthpop producer Johan Agebjörn, ended their decade-long run with a single called If You Ever Wanna Change Your Mind. Ironically, they did. After signing with nu-disco and Italo disco label Italians Do It Better last year, Shapiro returned with the nostalgic and lovesick synth ballad Forget About You and the announcement of a new album. The album in question, Sad Cities, is finally here. It’s impossible to avoid the word both loved and scoffed at by pop music; comeback. In the case of Shapiro however, it’s never been more appropriate.
Sad Cities is a perfectly tuned return to form for Sally Shapiro, with eleven cuts of nostalgic, melodramatic, and campy synthpop perfection. Shapiro’s signature cry-at-the-disco formula remains, but it’s approached from angles that are new for the duo. On Sad City, there’s touches of 90’s chamber pop and trip-hop mixed into with their slick, funk bass and Shapiro’s wistful vocals. Love In Slow Motion featuring Electric Youth is perfectly re-heated 80’s love ballad leftovers, the kind that tastes even better with time. The balance between kitsch and genuine emotion is made possible by Shapiro’s excellent pop writing, both lyrically and structurally. The writing on Sad Cities allows for Agebjörn to really create a sonic universe, one with an achingly melancholic undertone despite its often bright and sparkly outward appearance. Million Ways is euphoric and dancefloor ready disco-house, but like the Robyn-formula there’s something to Shapiro’s waif-like delivery that washes the track over with layers of yearning. Tell Me How, featuring French synthwave artist Tommy 86, is midnight drive perfection. Modular synths throb and whine against a pensive lo-fi drum beat as Shapiro delivers a forlorn lullaby about losing a lover. Christmas Escape, a sweeping ambient dreamwave track, is an unexpected standout. A quiet, cosmic rumination on what can be a notoriously stressful time of the year, Christmas Escape takes the camp trope of the yuletide pop track and flips it on itself. There’s no promise of joyous festivity or trite jingle bells positivity, but rather a recognition of the anxiety that can underscore this time of year and an offering to escape.
Italians Do It Better have been on a hot streak of late. Their Madonna tribute album comes to mind, and with Shapiro’s Sad Cities the label continues to demonstrate an understanding of Italo disco’s most essential elements. It’s dramatic, a bit cheesy and always style driven, but supported by real feeling. For Shapiro, it’s a near perfect comeback and a distinct evolution from their 2013 debut. Balancing the aesthetic with sharp and poignant writing, Sad Cities reveals a duo more settled into their style, at times even mastering it in ways that might surprise you.
Listen to Christmas Escape from Sad Cities below. Download the album from Italians Do It Better here.
Follow Sally Shapiro