Shilpa Ray – “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp”

Shilpa Ray

Save the wee hours for Shilpa Ray, when any combination of sleeplessness, inebriation and despair opens you up to the profane sentiments and black humor that existing in this doomed world requires. The Brooklyn-based songwriter has a new album out with Last Year’s Savage, the first full-length album recorded under her own name (that is, unless you count “Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers”). Her music is harrowing and hilarious at the same time, Ray spitting out satirical lyrics while steering her musicians toward ominous horizons. A case in point is “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp,” a spirited rocker set to grainy footage of anonymous dancefloor grinders, conveying an unpleasant truth about the lies we live.

Shilpa Ray’s forceful, witty charisma and recent collaborations with Nick Cave lead some to put her in the “new cabaret” category, but she feels very old-school (pre-grunge) underground rock to me. Could be because her howling, boozy voice recalls the wails of Exene Cervenka and Lydia Lunch, or her band plays crash-and-burn rave-ups the way the Flesheaters and the Gun Club once did. Of course, none of those bands threw a harmonium into the mix — the legacy of classical Indian music lessons from Shilpa’s suburban childhood. The harmonium’s wheezing drone adds a pleasing yet unsettling texture to Last Year’s Savage, turning a snappy ditty like “Pop Song for Euthanasia” into the sound of the Shangria-Las crooning in hell.

At a time when coquettish alt-popstars and reticent dream-pop groups rule the roost in indie music, Shilpa Ray’s caustic worldview and spill-your-bile approach evokes a lost era. I can get addicted to her truth.


Last Year’s Savage is out now on Northern Spy Records.

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