In a sense, Sally Shapiro is both the recording pseudonym of an anonymous Swedish singer and also the name of a duo consisting of that singer and producer/writer Johan Agebj+¦rn, who are together responsible for the music released under the moniker "Sally Shapiro." That music, combining Shapiro's delicate, silvery vocals with Agebj+¦rn's vintage-styled synthesizer dance tracks, is a deliberate and meticulous replication of the sound of 1980s Italo disco, as well as a distillation of the melancholic yet hopeful sentimentality commonly associated with twee indie pop.
The pair first met in 2001, working in an office together, but it wasn't until Christmas 2004 that Agebj+¦rn, a lifelong Italo disco lover, noticed Shapiro's voice while they were singing carols at his piano. He told her she would make an excellent Italo-style singer, and as luck would have it she turned out to be a fan of the genre as well. Shapiro agreed to record vocals for a tune Agebj+¦rn had penned in the style of Valerie Dore and Katy Gray (similarly pseudonymous singers who were backed by obscured writing/production teams), although when they finally got around to it in early 2006, she was so shy that Agebj+¦rn had to leave the room while she sang her part. The resulting track, "I'll Be by Your Side," was almost instantaneously hailed as a modern classic on online disco forums; it was given a vinyl release on the Austrian label Diskokaine that July and was soon championed in such outlets as Pitchfork, Vice, and The Village Voice.
The album Disco Romance followed on Diskokaine in December, containing that song and five more Shapiro/Agebj+¦rn collaborations (one of them, the single "Anorak Christmas," a cover of the Swedish indie pop one-man band Nixon), two remixes, and an ambient Agebj+¦rn instrumental. In October 2007, Canadian-based indie Paper Bag Records released Disco Romance in North America with a revised track listing including three new songs (two by Nixon's Roger Gunnarsson; one of them penned specifically for Shapiro) and the extended version of "I'll Be by Your Side." Shapiro's much-discussed shyness (she still refuses to record vocals while anyone is in the room) precluded her from music videos or making live appearances to promote the album, although she has given numerous interviews.
The duo still managed to stay in the minds of critics and fans, however, by releasing two albums of remixes, Remix Romance, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 -- which included contributions from artists like Dntel, Holy Fuck, the Juan Maclean, Junior Boys, and the Russian Futurists -- in April and June of 2008, respectively. The duo followed up their first album with another that followed a similar format, 2009's My Guilty Pleasure, before taking a break to work on other projects. Shapiro added guest vocals to a song ("Don't Be Afraid") on Anoraak's 2010 album Wherever the Sun Sets while Agebj+¦rn released the excellent Casablanca Nights album in 2011, with many tracks featuring vocals by Shapiro. The duo reconvened in 2011 to record a new album and the result was 2013's Somewhere Else. The album featured the return of Gunnarsson and collaborations with Le Prix and Electric Youth, as well as an alternate version of "Don't Be Afraid." ~ K. Ross Hoffman
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