Sally Shapiro, who in the last three years has delivered a flurry of music while ensconced in anonymity, is for the most part defined by what she does not do: give interviews, reveal her real name, or perform live. This hermetic devotion to a created persona has worked to pad her in a cosseted aura of negative space, where the actual product becomes almost secondary to the alluring mystery surrounding it. Yet, at least in the case of Shapiro’s sophomore effort, My Guilty Pleasure, all of this distracts from the fact that her music is little more than a wan imitation of the kind of cold, formally reserved Italo disco that has surged back into popularity, positioned by its chilly distance as a more intellectually inclined cousin to mainstream dance music. Shapiro is by no means bad (the songs here are darkly fascinating), but the scorn for publicity and repeated suggestions of Scandinavian beauty (the album cover, for example) read more directly as a tired, manufactured publicity stunt that becomes even more tenuous with My Guilty Pleasure, which, if not boring, is too similar both to her own prior work and that of dozens of other European chanteuses who offer dark, icy ballads striving for breathy mystery. “Dying in Africa,” a Nicolas Makelberge cover, resonates with that same sense of disquiet, which has a dizzying effect but leaves the song feeling like a byproduct of the cryptogrammic personality she’s trying to cultivate. “Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon” is muted and reserved, its sounds passed through a deadening filter that leaves them feeling strangely distant. That these songs exist in a totally closeted realm, created in a studio bubble and, without any plans for a performance, destined to stay there, makes them seem even more artificial, deepening cracks in a high-concept persona that has become increasingly distracting.
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