Pop music sure has changed a lot in the past fifty years, hasn’t it? Now, in the latter half of the first decade of the twenty-first century, pop music has truly eaten itself. Genres that were once distant rivals (see disco and punk) are so entwined that they have become almost inbred. Rather than waiting for what the next new style will be, we wait for what the next new blend of old styles will be. The latest of such style-dipping has been this slight increase in ’60s girl-pop-aping indie-pop (here’s looking at you, Pipettes). But there is always a worthwhile album or two amongst the discarded, less successful ones-one of them being the debut from Sweden’s Sarah Assbring, who records as El Perro del Mar.
Previously released in 2005 on Hybris as Look! It’s El Perro del Mar! and later re-released with some edits as El Perro del Mar on Memphis Industries (again, here’s looking at you, Pipettes), we arrive at the North American release on the Control Group. Assbring came up with the name (meaning “the dog of the sea”) on a Spain vacation after a dog tried to befriend her as she was sitting by the water. It would be easy to focus on the many doo-wops and sha-la-la-las in this record, but what makes this album truly engaging is the overwhelming feeling of longing and melancholy in Assbring’s vocals.
“Dog” may come across as a slightly mid-tempo, foot-tapping little tune on first listen, but on further investigation layers of gray despair unfold, much like a great Smiths song would. Some of her lyrics would even make Morrissey smile: “All those feelings you’ve got for me/ Were meant for a dog./ Oh, what a feeling/ What a feeling for a dog.”) All the music on the album was recorded by Assbring, save for the saxophone on the album’s lone cover, a rendition of Brenda Lee’s “Here Comes That Lonely Feeling Again” (which is probably the most doo-wop-happy, upbeat number on this entire disc). The single, “God Knows (You’ve Got to Give to Get),” is a stunning piece of pop with an incandescent and catchy vocal hook.
The tempos are often moderate, and Assbring’s vocals are always perfectly delivered with a hushed, haunting coo. El Perro del Mar is an album of tremendous warmth, unfettered by the usual grandiose pursuit of indie fame. It’s apparent that she made the album for herself rather than an intended audience. One song flows to the next with laser precision, and the songs end in a timely fashion. It is an excellent album in the classic sense: utterly listenable and completely worthy of repeated listens. Assbring’s sheer brilliance of delivery in these songs makes me think inventing new genres isn’t necessary.