El Perro del Mar

From the Valley to the Stars

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There are singers who can put over a sad song, there are singers who project melancholy, and then there are those who seem possessed of an elemental darkness deep within their souls. Sarah Assbring of El Perro del Mar is one of these. On her previous singles and album (2006's self-titled affair), Assbring convincingly, crushingly bled sadness -- in the music and the words, but most of all in her fragile and haunted vocals. Even at her cheeriest, Assbring still sounds like someone just broke into her house, stole all of her Ronettes and Bridget Saint John records, broke them one by one, and then kicked her cat for good measure. At her bleakest, it's like the sun just burned itself out. From the opening chords of "Jubilee" (as played by a very churchy organ), From the Valley to the Stars casts a spell of abject despair that's hard to break. Songs might be embellished with jaunty piano lines, childlike flutes, angelic harmonies, and even the occasional drumbeat, but they mope and weep like the saddest, bluest doo wop you'd ever hear on a Swedish street corner ("How Did We Forget?"), the loneliest, loveliest tear-stained indie pop ("Into the Sunshine," "Someday I'll Understand [Love Will Be My Mirror"]), or the creepiest fuzzy felt folk (the title track, "Inner Island") around. Assbring handles the production chores with a gentle and caring touch, mostly forsaking the chamber pop sound she previously utilized for a sparser, more delicate sound, though she can still create miniature symphonies with ease when the song calls for it. With the production, the songs, and above all her amazing vocal persona, Assbring and El Perro del Mar create a world of their own here. It's not a world for everyone -- you need a hearty soul to survive -- but if you can hack it, From the Valley to the Stars is a fairly magical trip to the center of heartache.

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