Returning from their ostensible retirement in 2016, Sally Shapiro and producer Johan Agebjörn have picked up neatly where they left off: crafting sly Italo-disco that yearns with a heart-on-your-sleeve openness, but still knows the way to the dancefloor.
When you’re already making music out of time, it makes this sort of re-entry very smooth. Almost too smooth it could be argued, as the elements of Shapiro’s debut, Disco Romance, that made the duo indie-famous fifteen years ago have formed the foundations of almost every song they’ve made since. And they’re back on this album once more, peppered liberally as though not a day had passed.
Forget About You goes almost two minutes before the vocals come in, easing in comfortably with a slow-building disco beat and stabbing synths. But as soon as we hear Shapiro’s moody vocals, it’s instant nostalgia. Believe in Me follows with the vocals floating gorgeously along a familiar-sounding synth line. They sound great – spectral, ethereal, with all the associated synonyms – but you might find yourself wondering if the duo will challenge themselves to push out of their comfort zone.
It turns out that an album full of easy nostalgia might have been better, because when chances are taken the results don’t always land. Christmas Escape and Tell Me How are glaring examples of shimmery outliers, full of rubbery synths a la Stranger Things and incongruous lyrics. Down the Road goes full-on yacht-rock courtesy of Highway Superstar with funky guitar and sax solos and is that a keytar on Million Ways? These are interesting excursions, but for an artist as atmospheric as Shapiro it feels jarring.
The beat-driven tracks work the best, such as Falling Clouds or the excellent closer Fading Away, where the arrangement takes precedence over the occasionally rote lyricism. One anomaly that does work well is Love in Slow Motion (featuring siblings-in-vibes Electric Youth) – a strong vocal that manages to sound like a jollier version of Julee Cruise.
There’s plenty to get stuck into here, and a lot to enjoy, but the hit to miss ratio is a little worse than previous efforts, where cohesion was one of Shapiro’s main strengths. Still, if you’re looking for a soundtrack to your Saturday night dance-cry, you might have found it.