When the likes of NPR, Pitchfork, and The New York Times were praising El Perro Del Mar, the one-woman band of Sweden's Sarah Assbring, for her self-titled 2006 release, I really felt like I should've been enamored with it too. Her breathy soprano was backed by a sound equally infused with Phi Spector girl-group doo wops and precious Belle and Sebastian chamber pop. What's not to like? Well, I'm not sure, exactly, but her songs just didn't draw me into their spell.
Her follow-up, From the Valleyto the Stars, shares the girl-group/chamber pop infusion, but adds to the mix a penchant for simple folkish hymnal constructions underpinned by medieval-like dirges that win me over.
Many of the 16 tracks clock in at somewhere in between 2 and 3 minutes, which is about as long as these simply constructed--both lyrically and musically--songs should be. Most of the lyrics are merely repetitions of the titles, which include "Glory to the World," "Inner Island," and "Your Name is Neverending." The composition is much more important than the songwriting here. I almost wish she'd sung in Swedish so that I wasn't distracted by the words, especially in the droning, organ-and-synth laden tunes like "Do Not Despair" and "Someday I'll Understand (Love Will Be My Mirror)." The words don't matter. Assbring's vocals are simply an instrumental layer.
At times the melodies are quite catchy, as in "Glory To the World," a relatively upbeat song punctured by tambourine and shrill off-kilter wood recorders. Beneath the piercing, almost grating recorders, a slow sustained fuzzy and churchy organ drones on, and the juxtaposition seems to work. A horn and bass driven doo wop called "How Did We Forget" is punctured by a cherubic chorus (The Gothenburg Symphonic Choir). Other songs are meant for meditation, like the title track "From the Valley to the Stars," a cyclical tune filled out with glowing synths.
From the Valley To The Stars is a moody and subtle record that unfolds with each listen. For best effects, listen with the headphones on. • Katy Henriksen