Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: ADA / The Control Group
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop
Avid Swedish musical experimenter El Perro Del Mar (Sarah Assbring) is finally back to deliver floaty, quirky gems. Her first full-length album since 2012's stunningly surreal, dream-like succession of tracks Pale Fire, KoKoro finds the Scandinavian beauty departing from her signature melancholic pop style to embark on a journey of cultural instrumental exploration. Exploring the sounds and textures of Chinese string instrument the guzheng and the Japanese shakuhachi flute, as well as the dulcimer, Assbring offers listeners a musical cornucopia.
It’s been a long four years since El Perro Del Mar’s last record, 2012’s Pale Fire. And her singular blend of hazy-alt-folk pop has been missed. A reminder of her music’s charms came when her exquisitely timeless single ‘God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)’ was used at the end of season four of Lena Dunham’s Girls. That song’s call for personal betterment is a theme that often crops up in El Perro del Mar recordings, and it’s one she hasn’t abandoned for her sixth studio album.
While taking a break from music to focus on life stuff, El Perro del Mar's Sarah Assbring was feeling disconnected from music until she visited a musical instrument museum in Stockholm and was transfixed by the variety of sounds from all different cultures. She was able to record many of them for later use as samples and inspiration on her fifth album, KoKoro. After taking her sound in a house and R&B direction on her previous record, 2013's Pale Fire, this time out Assbring wraps her brightly melancholy melodies in a jangling, worldly layer of sound that includes African rhythms, Middle Eastern drums, Asian woodwinds and strings, and rumbling bass provided by a duo of Swedish bassists.
KoKoro, the latest album by El Perro Del Mar, takes its title from the Japanese word meaning heart or feeling, and from there you get a hint of what’s to come on: new musical terrain informed by an exotic “Far East” sensibility, couched in familiar El Perro Del Mar territory of melancholy and vulnerability. Almost 12 years into her career as El Perro Del Mar, founder Sarah Assbring’s appetite for reinvention remains strong. On KoKoro, the Swedish singer’s fifth album, her global wanderings bring her to unfamiliar places with inspiring albeit uneven results that showcase an artist who could easily make a turn for pop stardom.
Since her eponymous 2006 debut, Sarah Assbring of El Perro Del Mar has garnered widespread acclaim for a sound that mines some of the most hallowed elements of early American pop: Wall of Sound production, Motown polish, sugary melodies indebted to ‘60s girl groups, and layered harmonies so immaculately arranged that Brian Wilson seems less like an influence than a spectral mentor guiding her every move. For this reason, she’s usually lumped together with other twee-pop practitioners whose songs hug the border between candy-coated indie and full-fledged retro homage, acts like Camera Obscura, Sambassadeur, and the whole subgenre’s graying godparent, Belle & Sebastian. While this category has its flaws, it’s been a fecund breeding ground for some near-unimpeachable pop confections, and Assbring has been responsible for her fair share.
It’s not difficult to understand why the ancient Greeks believed inspiration came from the muses. From the Latin inspirare ("to breathe into"), inspiration is as elusive and unpredictable as a terrorist, and when it strikes it can be just as devastating. Like love, you never know when you've got the full compliment, at least until it turns up and slaps you full force in the face.
Despite a jam-packed September, I can't help noticing how Carl and I ended up a little bit underwhelmed with many of the albums we reviewed this month. But since both of us got to cover most of our favorites on full-length form, it only makes sense this month's choices are mostly solid, but ….