Northern Spy Records
“You know where the heart went? The heart went/On makin’ the rent!” Shilpa Ray passionately sings, early on, on Door Girl, the second full lengther from the band Shilpa Ray, a vehicle for its singer/songwriter also named Shilpa Ray. Where previously, some Nico-esque harmonium was draped over the songs here it’s mostly about a punk energy, a love letter to New York carved out on the back of past albums that celebrate the Big Apple; managed while standing on the shoulders of giants such as Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, Lou Reed and Richard Hell.
Door Girl’s songs move from torch balladry (New York Prayer, After Hours) to urgent, up-tempo anthems (Morning Terrors Nights of Dread) with explorations through hip-hop (Revelations of a Stamp Monkey) and spit-and-snarl punk (EMT Police and The Fire Department) but the thread, through it all, is doo-wop. This makes Lou Reed the most obvious touchstone in a sense. Add to that the fact that Door Girl feels like the child of Reed’s New York album and Patti Smith’s Horses. EMT Police and The Fire Department gallops up and off, across the hills with a spoken-word mantra that could have come from Patti Smith. But this doo-wop incantation – it’s there through three-quarters of the album – is the secret glue.
Songs like Rockaway Blues, You’re Fucking No One, Manhattanoid Creepazoids and Shilpa Ray’s Got A Heart Full of Dirt have a bounce and swing to them as well as sweat and grit and snarl.
She borrows Patti Smith’s yelp and growl to end sentences, little Beach Boys melodies peek in here and there, and when she raps on early highlight, Revelations of a Stamp Monkey, it’s like an updated version of Blondie’s Rapture, maybe aimed at the Kurt Vile/Courtney Barnett crowd as much as the OG punks.
But what’s clear across Dream Girl – both a love letter to the city and a book or movie-as-album that takes in Ray’s earliest experiences of trying to make it there (if she’ll make it…anywhere…) – is so much heart and great, great songwriting. The band is cooking, sure, but it’s Shilpa Ray that is the star. And it’s her songs that add the (real) sparkle.
When we make it to the album-closer, My World Shatters By The BQE we arrive punch-drunk, elated. We arrive to find our heroine in much the same shape. She’s dragged us through the sewers and past the high-rises on a tour of her city, a potted biography of the days doing coat-check and dreaming of making it to the stage herself.
Well, the rent’s being covered now – and we can still hear and see and feel so much heart in that simple, necessary deed.