El Perro del Mar – ‘From the Valley to the Stars’

June 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, June 25, 2008.

From the Valley to the Stars

El Perro del Mar
From the Valley to the Stars
(Rogue/Inertia)

The Scandinavians enjoy towering cultural currency amongst indie-pop’s various current cliques. Whether it’s a kind of whiter-than-thou exoticism, an ESL lyrical naivety, or a general wealth of unaffected pop-smarts, our far northern hemisphere friends have been pushing indie critics’ buttons en masse for the last half-decade.

Swedish minstrel Sarah Assbring fits this archetype to its end. Over two relatively acclaimed records as one-woman band El Perro del Mar – 2005’s Look! It’s el Perro del Mar! and 2006’s self-titled LP – she has plied twee, overtly sentimental and quaintly unsophisticated song-smithery to hazy, chamber-pop hues.

From the shimmering, organ-led procession of opener ‘Jubilee’, third record From the Valley to the Stars treads pleasantly comparable territory. Over 16 fleeting tracks, Assbring tempers minimalist, subtly orchestrated pop tunes with breathy, close-proximity vocals. But while she navigates familiar topography, Assbring does away with some of its fauna. The trite, tra-la-la backing vocals and saccharine twee-ness that inhabited her second record are gone; replaced by a more immediate and soulful sense of earnestness. The gospel croon of ‘Inner Island’ and fragile, hymnal qualites of vignettes like ‘The Sun is an Old Friend’ and ‘Happiness Won Me Over’ are sincere to the point of both awkwardness and endearment.

The record’s flora has also shed some of its unnecessary foliage. Built chiefly around stark, entwining organ and piano motifs – assuaged via spectres of woodwind, brass and other instrumentation courtesy of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – From the Valley to the Stars delves into more pointedly serene, minimalist tropes. The stark organ and whistle plait of ‘You Belong to the Sky Now’ and the twittering guitar of closer ‘Your Name is Never Ending’ prove two of the prettiest examples.

But that’s not to say that the pop dynamics are gone entirely. The swaying swing-pop of sketches like ‘You Can’t Steal a Gift’ and ‘How Did We Forget?’, and the jaunty, swaggering piano hook of ‘Somebody’s Baby’ glow bright amongst the more sombre renditions.

While From the Valley to the Stars is certainly a more mature and measured collection than Assbring’s previous work, it’s far from life changing. While particular moments prove affecting, it’s generally, and simply, just a pleasant listen. Like the best pop music, El Perro del Mar washes over easily and inconsequentially, but never superficially. Thinking is optional here; this record’s bare prettiness will resonate no matter.

Dan Rule

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