Sarah Assbring, the Swedish indie-pop artist who performs under the moniker El Perro Del Mar, started out as what she calls an “mp3 artist”—whatever distinction that confers in this day and age. Now, though, Assbring’s come a long way from her CD-R origins; she’s toured Brazil with fellow Gothenberger Jens Lekman, and is currently trekking across the U.S. with Lykke Li to promote her second album From the Valley to the Stars
, which is being released on three continents. Not bad for someone whose preferred medium doesn’t require her to leave her bedroom.
The most obvious precedent for El Perro’s ethereal arias might be French electronic giants Air, but that’s just scratching the surface. The comparison definitely holds true on tracks like “Do Not Despair,” but overall El Perro Del Mar is more classical-sounding, in a way, retrofitted in churchy tones and the jangly, well-worn ornaments of oldies. The album starts off slowly; “Jubilee’s” opening lines evoke the simple sunniness of a Beach Boy song, and its follow-up, “Glory to the World,” is an equally life-smitten, almost hymnal organ-based reverie underlaid with wind refrains and an infectious end-of-song whine effect that can’t help but elicit a smile. Although interesting at first, though, the charm begins to wear off, and some of the more choral songs begin to risk a sort of drab Puritanism. In almost half the tracks, that stolid organ clings to the aural tapestry, a lingering reminder of the melancholia and solemnity of earthly existence. Lyrically, too, Assbring seems to fixate on loss; even in ostensibly uplifting songs, she couches her reassurances in terms of death and dissipation—a sort of memento mori
take on healing.
But El Perro has a point; “birth begets loss” is a reversible equation, and the tickling hope of the bereaved is what comes across most sharply on From the Valley to the Stars
. The glimpses of sunlight are tiny gifts, instinctively cherished, and as the album spools, some of its tracks filter out of the pews to spill jubilantly into the aisles. Trumpets and harpsichords join the fray, and the melodies get caught up in the excitement of rebirth; though still fiddling with minor chords, brassier, bouncier songs like “You Can’t Steal a Gift,” “How Did We Forget,” and “Somebody’s Baby” could have come straight out of the Motown songbook. It’s in these springtime moments, as well as a few adventurous late-album tracks like “You Belong to the Sky Now,” that El Perro Del Mar recoups her losses, puts her tribulations behind her, and really starts to shine.
El Perro Del Mar plays May 8th at Bowery Ballroom, NY.