Seeing a dog on the beach is hardly the most inspiring of moments, but for Swedish Sarah Assbring it was the turning point in the birth of El Perro Del Mar of whom she is the sole member. Boiling down the bones of the classic ’60s pop gold of Phil Spector, Brill Building era, the youthful emotions of Goffin and King, filtered through minimal instrumentation and a yearning desperation that rubs against the upbeat moods of the babyboomer genre.
Like the drunk sister of Velvet Underground playing her Saint Etienne records at the wrong speed, opener Candy, with its ‘shooby-doo wah-wah’s’ on the verge of tears is clinging onto this as a mantra from the good times, as the world falls apart gracefully around her. This bluesy trick of repeating a truth until it becomes solid is used on a number of tracks to good effect.
God Knows is a beautiful swoop of a song detailing Motown shoo-wop and a neat missive about being a bit more generous with the world and its folk.
Shot through with a constant melancholy, these minimalist pop songs have big yearnings echoed by the song structures they ape. From an acoustic wash, the slow boom of tympani drums and a whole host of ’60s-style orchestral extras, like mini-bedroom symphonies singing into a hairbrush and shimmying in a beehive in front of the mirror. And who can say they haven’t felt like doing that from time to time?
Like other sonic travellers TV On The Radio, El Perro Del Mar understand the beauty in being a fan of musical genres doesn’t mean slavishly copying them, but to take the familiar for a ride down dark streets to make thrillingly resonant music. Even the dog that inspired the name of the band gets a namecheck on Dog, in the beautifully deceptive line “all the feelings you got for me is like for a dog.”
The only flaw is the lack of variation in the production and the frail quality of her voice, but even this has its own depth giving sentiments such as “I’ve been taking a lot without giving back” a real sense of ache that goes beyond mere surface affectation.
The album’s centrepiece has to be This Loneliness(“ain’t pretty no more”) conjuring up a red-wine night with Neko Case and Cat Power (with whom she shares that paper-thin constitution of the heart) as the strummed and choral-backing build a padded wall of sound to recline on and wallow gloriously. “When you come bring the sun – when you come.”
The shockingly upbeat It’s All Good kicks the mood off course with its Tamla Motown beat and the infectious handclap action tickles the corners of your ears with a smile that doesn’t fade after the track stops. Now that’s grrrl power!
The bleakness of the soundtrack to bruised hearts does make this a downbeat affair, but in a good way. Like the flipside to the pop-fuelled fizz of fellow Swede Annie, this is music for the ‘inbetween’ times, when you feel displaced with an unexplainable cloud hanging over your head, but for now it’s all you want to hear.