Swedish producer Johan Agebjörn is one half of simulacrummy Italio-disco throwback Sally Shapiro, which accrued a lot of mileage on the gimmick that its wispy-voiced chanteuse refused to actually unveil her identity or even make any public appearances. You could say that Agebjörn’s new project, Casablanca Nights, was born from a desire to step out from behind the curtain of coy anonymity, but the press notes make it clear that this hyper-collaborative effort is, if anything, even more ephemerally contact-avoidant. “Mostly done through the internet,” “recorded everywhere from Montreal to London, and Pittsburg to Milan while mastermind and producer Johan Agebjörn was back in Sweden, putting together the pieces.”
These may as well have been grooves stitched together from the gases left over from time-traveling disco comets and accompanied by vocalists trading fours after having thrown refrigerator poetry magnets into a blender. The spirit of collaboration is, basically, just that: a specter, a ghost willed into existence by machinery. A compelling listen? Sure, but not one that’s going to convince any skeptics already weary of Agebjörn’s penchant for imitating the early 12-inch era’s endless array of anonymous, momentary disco titans and sirens.
Which makes it all the more ironic to name the record Casablanca Nights, referencing what was undoubtedly the most above-ground, star-making record label of the entire disco era, home of Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, and the Village People. With appearances from the likes of Lovelock, Le Prix, Wolfram, Halftone, and Legowelt, Casablanca Nights is paradoxically top-heavy with basement-deep talent.
The title track is an evocative, M83-reminiscent jam as comfortable as a balmy dusk, sounding like it would be hot and bothered if it weren’t so cool and detached. “Watch the World Go By,” the album’s first single, bounces smoothly with synth pizzicatos, airy vocals, and a nagging, unresolved chorus. “Spacer Women from Mars” fills out the room like a bug bomb in a terrarium, and “So Fine All the Time” envelopes the listener within drama-queen reverberations. “Memories of Satie” is presumably inspired by French composer Erik Satie, but instead sounds awfully similar to the chord progressions of Tori Amos’s “Bliss”; in either case, it’s a pitch-perfect approximation of echoing, mid-1980s balladry. All of which is to say there’s a hell of a lot of air amid Casablanca Nights‘s piecemeal, electronically transferred elements. Just not much oxygen.