Album Reviews

El Perro Del Mar – Big Anonymous

(City Slang) UK release date: 16 February 2024

Dreamlike, suffocating yet compelling, Sarah Assbring’s first album in eight years combines poignancy with yearning

El Perro Del Mar - Big Anonymous Over the last 20 years or so, Sarah Assbring (otherwise known as El Perro Del Mar) has skated over a countless number of genres. Yet whether it be the austere folk of her debut record, or the expansive Scandi-pop of her last record, 2016’s KoKoroo, there’s always been a deep veil of sadness covering her songs.

Nowhere is that sadness more pronounced than on Big Anonymous, her first record for eight years. Featuring songs originally written for a ballet, there’s an unsettling, dark tinge to this album, best encapsulated in the eerie cover art featuring a nightmarish troll-like figure stood in someone’s room.

That dreamlike quality is written all over Big Anonymous. Opening track Underworld is an orchestral instrumental which suitably sets the tone, before floating into Suburban Dreams, a minimal spacey synth ballad which sticks pretty closely to its glacial pace throughout its five minutes.

The darkness sometimes feels all-consuming. In Silence is almost suffocating in its bleakness, another deathly-slow number which becomes quite claustrophobic. And, while it sometimes becomes hard to listen to, it’s never less than compelling: Wipe Me Off This Earth will be nobody’s idea of a party starter, but Assbring’s intense vocals mixed with the jarring orchestration means that it grabs the attention and never lets go.

Assbring is at her best when she fully embraces the yearning that grief can produce. One More Time is a devastatingly poignant track, featuring the singer pleading for “one more time, that moment in time with you”. The instrumental centrepiece, The Truth The Dead Know (named after the Anne Sexton poem) also seems to conjure up all manner of emotions, despite never featuring any vocals.

It’s undeniable though that Big Anonymous can be a bit of a slog. The pace never picks up throughout the record’s 45 minutes, and tracks like Please Stay, with its distorted vocals and nightmarish instrumentals, overstay its welcome over its near six minute running time. Darkness is compelling, but it needs some light to balance things out.

That light may be provided by the final track, Kiss Of Death, a track with an almost cinematic sweep, and one that you can fully imagine coming to life in the album’s theatrical roots – there’s an emotional swoop to the song’s last minute or so that you could easily imagine accompanying the final scene of a ballet.

Big Anonymous is a deliberately paced album that some may find a bit too bleak to visit often. It’s beautifully crafted, as you’d expect from Sarah Assbring, but at times that darkness can become a bit all-consuming. If you’re in the right frame of mind though, El Perro Del Mar’s world is one that’s well worth stepping into.

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