El Perro del Mar 

From the Valley to the Stars

Actors and punk rockers used to have "stage names" — Bernie Schwartz became Tony Curtis, etc., while the late 1970s punk scene was dotted by such monikers as Poly Styrene, Nicky Beat, Barney Scum, and Chavo Pederast. Lately, solo performers adopt noms de musique that could be band names but aren't — i.e., Destroyer, Dosh, and El Perro del Mar. The latter translates to "The Sea Dog," and Swedish singer and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Assbring (none of your wiseacre comments, you know who you are), a lass with the potential to become a Scandinavian Brian Wilson/Todd Rundgren/Sufjan Stevens. (Pick one or more, depending on your age, Dear Reader.)

Her second disc (her third if you count the collection Look! It's El Perro del Mar), From the Valley to the Stars is a veritable Whitman's Sampler of classic/retro-pop confections. The gorgeous pastoral "To Give Love" evokes the late '60s Beach Boys' harmonies at their dreamiest with touches of the prettier aspects of minimalist Philip Glass (the resolute oohs and ahs of 1977's North Star). "Do Not Despair" is an almost Devotional meditation, its child-like choir's consoling mantra borne solely by cushioning organ chords and what sounds like a synthesized French horn. "Somebody's Baby" is driven by a bouncy, loping Bacharach-like motif and harmonies evoking the daze of Motown's baby-love innocence (think the Marvelettes and pre-Diana Ross-as-boss Supremes). The ethereal title track recalls Brian Eno's lyrical mini-idylls circa Another Green World/Before & After Science.

I wish El Perro/Ms. Assbring would've included a few really up-tempo tracks (in the manner of "Waterloo" or "So Long" by fellow Swedes ABBA), but as a meditative (though not "ambient") set with persuasive hooks, this Valley is lovely-cozy as it gets. (The Control Group)


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