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El Perro del Mar – self-titled

Released on The Control Group, 4/22/08

The first time I heard Sarah Assbring, the Swiss army knife (producer/singer/performer, though she’s from Sweden not Switzerland) behind El Perro del Mar, was in Macy’s. It was right about that time where I had to cold turkey the 50-or-so blogs I was reading on the daily. The band names were getting too ridiculous and the music too unreliable.

The hype that superseded the band's name suddenly fell away between the racks of Mark Ecko and Rocawear. I stood transfixed by the gorgeous video for “God Knows” from El Perro’s first album. The song reminded me what a great indie-pop moment is all about: a burst of surprise, a sticky melody, then heading home and downloading the album for free.

The sound is more delicate than Coco Rosie and less confident than Nancy Sinatra, and not a lot has changed from first album to second. From The Valley To The Stars, the second album, offers more soft pop; Assbring’s voice wavers just above a whisper. The instrumentation is soft and occasionally cheesy (see the flute embellishments on “Glory To The World"). The lyrics are too incessant. Though it’s just over a minute long, saying “the sun is an old friend of mine” (also the name of the track) over and over again doesn’t validate what should have remained a bedroom experiment.

When attempting R&B, Assbring’s voice and arrangements start to spark. On “How Did We Forget” she sounds near tears, her sadness bolstered by melting horns and distant guitars. Not even the chorus of background voices can prevent the porcelain loneliness. “Somebody’s Baby” attempts the same sort of meaningfulness, only with more energy -- it’s a good song.

I sort of empathize with El Perro del Mar. Her songs are short and the music is blithe, but she brings none of the drama of her retro-pop contemporaries. Duffy and Winehouse act -- and occasionally sound -- like they have soul, while Joanna Newsom and Leslie Feist remain paces ahead of Assbring in essential categories like vocal textures and pop experimentation. I can’t imagine having another Macy’s moment with any song off From The Valley, but I guess that’s what the new generation of hype is for.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars