Music

El Perro Del Mar: From the Valley to the Stars

The Swede's third album is far from depressing, but it sure as hell is miserable.


El Perro Del Mar

From the Valley to the Stars

Label: The Control Group
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: 2008-05-19
Amazon
iTunes

Singer-songwriter Sarah Assbring has been compared by some to fellow Swede Jens Lekman, and on the surface, you can see why, as both artists, in addition to having toured together and collaborated on a 2004 split seven-inch release, cleverly combine the DIY charm of indie rock with classic elements of 1960s Brill Building pop. However, while the charismatic Lekman is able to wow audiences with his witty lyrics and self-deprecating humor, by comparison, Assbring, who goes by the nom de plume El Perro Del Mar, is like the quiet wallflower. She coos away in a voice so fragile you don't know if she's going to start laughing or burst into tears, and her songs are not just melancholic, they're unflinchingly miserable, rife with emotional devastation, and when she does make an attempt at humor, it's of the blackest sort.

One of the biggest revelations of 2006, El Perro Del Mar's eponymous second album was a near perfect marriage of gentle, upbeat melodies and downright morose sentiment, as Assbring drew inspiration from sounds firmly rooted in the early to mid-1960s, from Phil Spector's girl groups, to doo wop, to Burt Bacharach's '60s body of work, led by the drop-dead gorgeous single "God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)" and the winsome cover of Brenda Lee's "Here Comes That Feeling Again". Under the gently sweet arrangements of string synths and horns, though, was a real heart of darkness, as songs like "Candy", "Party", and "Dog" proved to be as emotionally wrenching as the aforementioned pair of tracks was beautiful. Trust El Perro Del Mar to take such a timeless, genuinely fun line like Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and make it the most depressing phrase ever.

Judging solely upon the descriptions of Assbring's music, it sure doesn't seem like the most enjoyable music around, but on El Perro Del Mar there was a palpable sense of contentment with all that misery, and perhaps even a small, flickering glimmer of candlelight in the midst of all that darkness holding listeners captive. On the much-anticipated follow-up, though, it's as if an icy breeze came along and snuffed that sole source of light and warmth out. From the Valley to the Stars sees Assbring truly experiencing a dark night of the soul.

In fact, this album drips with so much irony, that you might want to wear a slicker. Opening with a doleful organ and layered vocals, "Jubilee" has Assbring repeating the word, "Jubilation," but considering her extremely deadpan delivery, the album's mood won't be close to anything resembling jubilant. "Glory to the World" desperately tries to brighten the mood, Assbring singing about clouds in the sky and flowers, but like the accompanying flute melody, the prevailing sense of hopelessness never leaves. And you'd expect a song titled "Happiness Won Me Over" to be the tiniest bit joyous, but with its somber, hymn-like tone, it sounds like it's being sung at a funeral.

For all the desolation, though, there's no shortage of unadulterated beauty. The spooky, ethereal twist on doo wop that Julee Cruse and Angelo Badalementi created is replicated to gorgeous effect on "How Did We Forget?", as Assbring creates a mood that is simultaneously lush and stark, the mix full, but the economy of the multiple instrumental tracks keeping things in check. "To Give Love" is refreshingly simple in its chamber pop approach, Assbring's repeated phrase of, "There's still time to give love," packing a wallop. Just as restrained is the strong nocturnal vibe of "Inner Island", as subtle synths take a back seat to Assbring's rich vocal harmonies. Whe do get instances where El Perro del Mar comes to sounding playful, but the jaunty "Somebody's Baby" has Assbring clearly emphasizing that the guy in question is somebody's and not hers, while the anxiety in Assbring's narrator eliminates any hope whatsoever, as she sings, "Tell me when can I see you again? / Tell me how far did you go / When did you find a new place to stay / Please make sure you let me know the way."

Comprised of 16 tracks over 43 minutes, From the Valley to the Stars is peppered with song fragments and mood pieces in the one to two minute range, but while such an idea often leads to an album that comes off as wildly unfocused, El Perro Del Mar keeps everything remarkably cohesive, the interludes smoothly leading into the lengthier tracks. While not as instantly gratifying as her lovable previous album, Assbring explores more subtle approaches on her third CD, finding a sublime musical complement to her voice, and by the time were hit with the climax of "Someday I'll Understand (Love Will Be My Mirror)" and the wrenching "Your Name is Neverending", we find ourselves more than willing to go along for the ride, no matter how rife with sadness it may be.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.