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El Perro Del Mar - El Perro Del Mar

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Artist: El Perro Del Mar

Album: El Perro Del Mar

Label: Control Group

Review date: Nov. 30, 2006

Given the deadpan mugging of Jens Lekman, the queasy theatrics of The Knife, the after-school wholesomeness of I'm From Barcelona, one is well within one's rights to suspect a certain self-reflexive disingenuousness from our current crop of Swedish pop acts. El Perro Del Mar, the nom de guerre of solo troubadouress Sarah Assbring (ouch), should be prey to similar misgivings, but it inverts its irony in such a way as to make the question of insidious cleverness irrelevant: instead of fractured cheeriness or stylized melodrama, her self-titled debut is just a litany of pure, uncompromising sadness, and it's hard to argue with that.

El Perro Del Mar is an appropriately solitary affair; save some tasteful sax squeaks on "Here Comes That Feeling," it's sung and strummed and arranged and multitracked entirely by Assbring . She gets her solitude to sound impressively well-appointed, replete with silken strings, overcast bells and fleecy percussion, and in a way this voluminous loneliness is statement enough in itself. Most arresting is her voice, though, which oozes slow heartbreak in the foreground (Ivy's Dominique Durand is a worthwhile comparison, though Liza Minelli comes to mind strangely quickly) while a Motown ghost chorus sighs and swoons and yips behind it. The contrast is more or less acute, depending on the song; the backup singers in "Candy" seem to empathize with the narrator's syrupy apathy, but their coos in "It's All Good" make her sound downright sick.

The smirk, if there is one, lies in that décalage, the carefree disguises in which these skeletal songs about loneliness curl up. Assbring gestures at levity ("Come on over baby, there's a party going on," she keens in "Party") or drags it down with a murmur — the resigned little hoot-sniffle that cuts through the chirping chorus of "God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)," or the way she drawls the word "lonesome" in the legitimately raucuous "Here Comes That Feeling" — but the irony doesn't feel like the point of the exercise. It's the stark irony of José González covering The Knife's "Heartbeats," not of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone robo-tripping through Missy Elliott's "Hot Boyz."

El Perro Del Mar is decidedly lush and monumental in its melancholy, and all the more admirable in its unassuming hesitance to dwell on the contradictions it entails, but above all it's simply a very pretty pop album, equally accomplished in its songwriting and its realization. Well as it stands up to apparently limitless intellectual interpretation, it stands up even better in its own light as a slight, dogged, enchantingly heartbroken record.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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