El Perro del Mar

Love Is Not Pop

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El Perro del Mar could have kept making the same desolate, heartbreakingly crushed record over and over with no diminishing returns. Maybe the pristine arrangements and fragile chamber pop sound were starting to feel limiting to Sarah Assbring, though. Perhaps it was beginning to feel limiting and insular and she needed a change. To that end, when the time came to start working on a follow-up to her 2008 album, From the Valley to the Stars, Assbring picked Studio's Rasmus Hägg as a collaborator. Together the pair have opened up El Perro's approach beyond the limits of the past, and have incorporated new ideas and sounds. One change is that the songs are much longer, averaging around five minutes and taking their time to ebb, flow, and reach devastating emotional levels. Another is that even though it's the work of just Assbring and Hägg, the record sounds very much like the work of a full band, rather than a one-person operation. The interplay between instruments and the layered arrangements help with that impression. So do the innovations Hägg brought to the project. His background in dance music means there are a couple of songs ("Gotta Get Smart," "L is for Love") you could almost imagine yourself dancing to, albeit very sadly. Elsewhere, the warm synth tones, dubby sound effects, and overall expansive feel of the record can probably be attributed to his influence. Assbring's rigidly defined chamber pop sound gets a look in, too; on songs like "It is Something (To Have Wept)" and "A Better Love," she sounds as composed and precise (and broken) as ever. The sonic touches Hägg adds to her songs only makes them better. The combination of their gifts has resulted in something pretty special, possibly the best work either of them has done to date, and hopefully something that will continue.

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