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Album Review

While taking a break from music to focus on life stuff, El Perro del Mar's Sarah Assbring was feeling disconnected from music until she visited a musical instrument museum in Stockholm and was transfixed by the variety of sounds from all different cultures. She was able to record many of them for later use as samples and inspiration on her fifth album, KoKoro. After taking her sound in a house and R&B direction on her previous record, 2013's Pale Fire, this time out Assbring wraps her brightly melancholy melodies in a jangling, worldly layer of sound that includes African rhythms, Middle Eastern drums, Asian woodwinds and strings, and rumbling bass provided by a duo of Swedish bassists. She avoids charges of cultural appropriation thanks to the mishmash of sounds and clashes of cultures that occur throughout the album, often jamming the sounds of different cultures together in the space of a song. A track like "Clean Your Window" cooks together booming Afro-pop drums, percolating tablas, dubby echo, and '80s R&B synth stabs into a bubbling mix that sounds like nothing else happening in 2016. She's using the sounds without hijacking the cultures they came from, adding them to her unique style like spices. It's certainly a far step away from the slick sound of Pale Fire; the samples and loops hark back to her first records, and the way she weaves together divergent sounds into a lush, fully unified backdrop for her aching vocals is a leap forward. It doesn't hurt that the album is home to some of her most achingly sad songs and some of her biggest hooks. Songs like "Ging Ging" and "Breadandbutter" aren't a million miles away from what modern pop singers like Carly Rae Jepsen are doing; a little bit more gloss and they'd sound at home on an adventurous Top 40 playlist. Other songs have the kind of impressive otherworldly quality that her fellow Swede Robyn has at her best; the slickly sweet "Kouign-Amman" and the pulsing discofied dance track "Ding Sum" are fine examples. The rest of the album is a cornucopia of sadness, sweetness, and perfectly blended-together sounds. Assbring's discovery of the world of sounds, and the inspiration it gave her, has helped provide El Perro del Mar with a stunning upgrade, and KoKoro stands as one of the best works of her already pretty great career.


Born: 2003 in Gothenburg, Sweden

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

El Perro del Mar (The Sea Dog) is the nom de musique of Sarah Assbring, a Swedish pop thrush whose recordings are glorious aural confections that combine Brill Building pop and the influences of Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, and Smokey Robinson with lyrics that speak with a sweet, ineffable sadness of the pitfalls of love and life. According to Assbring, the name El Perro del Mar came to her during an ill-fated vacation in Spain; she was alone, depressed, and out of sorts when a stray dog came up...
Full bio
Kokoro, El Perro del Mar
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