Free and legal MP3: Johan Agebjörn (with Sally Shapiro) (nimble, ravishing neo-italo-disco)

Tasteful, exquisitely crafted, melodic, and pleasantly melodramatic, “Casablanca Nights” plays like the soundtrack to a movie made in the near future about the fading past.

Johan Agebjorn

“Casablanca Nights” – Johan Agebjörn (with Sally Shapiro)

I have no particular feelings either way for the sub-genre of italo-disco, but I do have a huge music-crush on the exquisitely crafted, pleasantly melodramatic neo-italo-disco work done together by the Swedish producer Johan Agebjörn and the singer known as Sally Shapiro. (They have been featured here twice previously, both for songs credited to Sally Shapiro, which has also been the name of their duo.)

“Casablanca Nights” plays like the soundtrack to a movie made in the near future about the fading past. Agebjörn specializes in melding a shiny, club-like expansiveness with a bittersweet sort of introspection. Some of this effect is due to the airy brilliance of Shapiro’s vocals, but a lot of the music’s depth of spirit comes from Agebjörn’s deft arrangement. In what is almost an aural illusion, he here crafts a driving dance beat out of nothing that’s actually moving with any particular drive or power. Many of his individual motifs are slow, even tentative—a compact, haunting synth line here, a desultory guitar line there, and to cap it off a jazzy noodle of an electric piano solo. The only sustained, powerful drumming we hear is the in-retrospect-ironic pounding that opens the song and lasts all of three or four seconds. In many ways “Casablanca Nights” is a glittering mirage.

And what about that chorus? Almost breathtaking, it effects its magic in large part via a shifting sense of tonal center—each new lyrical line, every four measures, starts from a place either a half step below or a half step above the previous line’s start point. A half step change in this context sounds ravishing and theatrical. Don’t miss also the marvelous effect of the male vocal singing the same note as Shapiro (might be Agebjörn, not sure), blending so nimbly as to sound more like an aural shadow than a separate voice.

“Casablanca Nights” is the title track to first album Agebjörn has released under his own name. Shapiro (alas!) does not sing on every track (just four of 11); he has brought in a variety of other artists to help him with the others. The album came out last week on Paper Bag Records. MP3 via Paper Bag.

Free and legal MP3: Sally Shapiro (the latest from Sweden’s neo-italo-disco chanteuse)

“Miracle” – Sally Shapiro

Sweden’s reclusive neo-italo-disco chanteuse (and/or duo) returns with another glistening wash of beat-driven melodrama, complete with whispery spoken French and electronic thunderstorms. Once again, it’s the airy vocals–half golden warm, half icy cold; summer and winter combined–and blasé melodicism that give this song its particular charisma. For all its scrupulous construction and electronic core, there’s something serene, even lackadaisical about the vibe, and yet not for a moment does the piece lose its sweeping, club-like theatricality. The melodies themselves are good examples of this dynamic tension, sounding at once borderline schmaltzy and emotionally penetrating.

For newcomers, note that the name Sally Shapiro is used here to refer to both the duo behind the music—producer/writer/arranger Johan Agebjörn and an unidentified female singer—and to the singer herself, whose identity is kept secret, in the interest of maintaining her privacy. (She avoids both live performances and face to face interviews.)

“Miracle” is the first available song from the album My Guilty Pleasure, slated for a fall release on Paper Bag Records. MP3 via Better Propaganda.