Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Album Review: El Perro Del Mar - From The Valley To The Stars

El Perro del Mar veritably dazzled with her 2006 eponymous debut album, that melted together a sugary concoction of emotionally earnest pop with endearingly lo-fi, homemade sixties inflections. Two years on and the pretty Swedish soprano otherwise known as Sarah Assbring still shows no signs of conforming or caving to commercial pressure, instead returning with a concept sophomore album.

In ‘From The Valley To The Stars’, Assbring attempts to invoke the changing celestial state of heaven, concentrating on making each track an individual hymn or psalm, though it’s unclear whether the album is intended to be a secular representation of utopia or a more god-fearing musical effort. Instead Assbring manages to construct a church of her own making through drifting organ and piano loops, angelic vocal lilting and sparse percussion. Opener ‘Jubilee’ could just as easily come from Scottish folk-pop darlings Camera Obscura, were it not for the fact that Assbring resists the temptation to grow from organ chimes into full-on pop melodies, rather using meandering musical loops to invoke moods and feelings. Organs, recorders and pianos create instrumentally charming interludes, often over ethereal string backings. The simplicity of Assbring’s musical arrangements are nearly always uplifting rather than melancholic, especially in the gentle tinkering chug of ‘Inside The Golden Egg’ or ‘The Sun Is An Old Friend’.

Assbring lets her beautiful and delicate music be the mouthpiece, often limiting her lyrics to mere repetitions of the song titles themselves, as in ‘Happiness Won Me Over’. There is still that Spector-sensible edge to ‘Somebody’s Baby’ and ‘Into The Sunshine’, but by and large the sixties sound that Assbring carried so well with her debut has been discarded for something a little less concrete and defined. Through sixteen short tracks the preoccupation here is with gliding, melodicially inconclusive invocations of sentiment. Title track, ‘From The Valley To The Stars’, is a particular highlight: vocally thick with sonorous harmonies, its pulsing nature belies the need for melodic conclusion or development. Yet sometimes this tendency to drift lapses into the dull and repetitious, as in ‘Inner Island’, which sounds audibly cold and remote, almost trite in the lyrically repetitious ‘don’t cast away your inner island’.

Thankfully though, the shortness of the tracks means that Assbring can get away with a few non-starters. Though not the most exciting of albums, as far as sleepy concept pop goes, this is just about as good as it gets.

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