Sarah Assbring has stowed two previous albums worth of life’s little letdowns away inside the exquisite, yet heart flattening collection of songs she pens under the nom choisi El Perro del Mar. And while the Swedish Songwriter continues to sound something like a delicate, wounded bird, her latest long-player From the Valley to the Stars (The Control Group) suggests she may be ready to pull the plug on the pity party at hand, if ever so slightly.
From the Valley, like Look! It's el Perro del Mar and El Perro del Mar before it, remains paper thin; its’ songs bridged ever so loosely by Assbring’s dusty, slightly cracked vocals and porcelain musical textures. Dainty pillows of lacy piano, vintage swells of pipe organ, lonely plucks on a standup bass, pitchy wooden flutes, the occasional acoustic guitar or two; there exists very little instrumental work throughout the album’s 16 tracks. So little, in fact, that the shuffling drums, bubblegum bass lines, and playful tickle of the ivories – themselves subdued when lifted out of context - of “Somebody’s Baby” sound downright startling when the song kicks in.
Songcraft this slight may not be to the liking of every ear that tunes into From the Valley. But for those who crave the minimalist, pop aesthetic from time to time, there is certainly a serene sense of peace to be had here. Singing “Don’t cast away your inner island” (“Inner Island”), Assbring doesn’t shy away from self-help 101. Sure…such lines read a little credulous when written here. But From the Valley makes a surprisingly convincing argument for those who believe the answers to our sometimes sad human condition lay in simple, self belief. A line like “Deep in my heart I believe it’s the answer/Love is the answer” is not the generic sentiment of an artist who puts little thought in to the words that fall on the page. They are the product of a strong, silent type, who need not raise her voice or obscure her thoughts to inspire. – David Pitz