El Perro del Mar | From the Valley to the Stars
Most Likely To: quietly weave its way into your subconscious and nest there for days.
For a record so steeped in milky reverie, From the Valley to the Stars is an astoundingly catchy record, full of gentle melodies that are hard to shake. Under the moniker of El Perro del Mar, Sweden’s Sarah Assbring does an incredible job of creating a fragile dreamworld so finespun that listeners are almost afraid to exhale too deeply while listening, lest the fabric unravel. It is the record Isobel Campbell has been trying to write since she left Belle and Sebastian–filled with weightless vocals and a magical burnish.
There is a favored format on From the Valley to the Stars: brief, gossamer songs whose collective tenor grants the album its impact. “Jubilee,” the album’s opening number, sets the stage along these lines. Layered vocal harmonies ebb and flow, a gently lapping tide unobtrusively working below a surface of light instrumentation. It is understated and serene with an effect that is pure and luxurious. These general parameters are where El Perro del Mar feels most comfortable and one in which no one else can really compete. On the sultry “How Did We Forget?” Assbring weaves a concoction as sweet and gauzy as cotton candy. Nearly every one of the more sedate tracks here–and the majority do have sober tempos–satisfies this metaphor, melting away in its debonair martyrdom the moment its sugar hits your tongue.
Of course, there are more roseate songs here, both in terms of beats per minute and overall texture. “Somebody’s Baby” is easily one of the year’s finest bits of songwriting, an inspired appropriation of Motown downbeats and hand claps merged with Perro’s winsome fairy touch. It is impossible to dislike a song like this, so refined and simple, so universally appealing. At two minutes and thirty-one seconds, it is a perfectly packaged, irresistible treat. While “Glory to the World” lacks the broad magnetism of “Somebody’s Baby,” the former is another example of the record hitting its inimitable stride. After only a couple of listens, I found myself whistling along to its woodwind phrasings; I had to snap out of the music to bust myself actively participating in the album’s performance.
Maybe that’s the best way of crystallizing what From the Valley to the Stars is all about: it’s the type of release you’ll want to whistle along to, with all the associations that brings with it. It is innocent, it is tuneful, and it is an entreaty to let go and be taken someplace else for sixteen songs.