It's long been a held belief that the greatest power of pop music is to give meaning to the inane, that through melody and pitch, through rhythm and repetition, through drama and delivery, cats can really spend time pondering who did put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong. Sarah Assbring, the Swedish lass who is El Perro Del Mar, knows full well the magic of pure phonetics, her self-titled debutante's turn turning all kinds of phrases that, on the surface, mean nothing. Yet, as Assbring sings sentiments like "bee-bop, bee-bop-a-lu-la" or "sha-la-la-la" or "la-la-la-la-la-la" or "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba" or, even, "it's all good" all of which she does on this disc she goes beyond bringing them mere meaning, offering, instead, incredible depth. On "People," when she coos "I don't understand people woah!" in her delicate whisper, that unexpected exclamation, of another nonsense non-word says so much about the strangeness of the humans and the ease with which one can feel the alienation from them, Assbring bringing the weight of her sadness to bear in a simple syllable. And, in listening to the longplayer, there's no doubt how deep the troubled waters run in this dog's sea. Which can be seen clearly on a cut called "Sad," where the opening gambit goes: "I'm sad all day long/ And at night I think about/ Being sad all day long."
The aforementioned "People" and the astonishing "I Can't Really Talk About It" are both about being swallowed by a sense of insurmountable isolation that all the best intentions of well-meaning others cannot conquer. And even when Assbring steps out, proudly, and references her influences with a cover The Gaylettes' "Here Comes That Feeling" she, oh so symbolically, chooses the old rhythm-and-blues number that speaks of the return of an inescapable feeling of loneliness, so depressingly recurring that it's become like an old friend. That sentiment is reflected perfectly on the cut called "This Loneliness," where Assbring sings of that familiar feeling "only taking the place of a friend," whilst her voice glides through this sea of sadness, and keyboards shine like light on water and distant horns sound out like ships passing in her lonesome night.
The El Perro Del Mar sound, on this and other songs, is often deceptively amazing, there being gentleness and graciousness to the way she layers on an array of sounds, striking tonal depth yet never letting these opaque arrangements get too murky. The music dares to be dubbed Depressed Girl-Group, as Assbring with layered-on vocals, shakings of sleigh-bells, and rainings of handclaps constructs walls of sound like banks of fog, building a Brill Building not out of bricks and mortar, but of shed tears and exhaled breaths.