Love Is Not Pop, the latest album from El Perro del Mar (the bewitching and bemused Sarah Assbring) begins as a break-up record and metamorphoses into a project to resuscitate and excavate modern love. Whatever that may be, so we may assume, it cannot be pop. Love is short (seven songs), simple, and poignant. Like a novella, it allows for both the short story’s concentrated jolt of impressions strategically arrayed, and the novelist’s ability to look at the same thing from a (small, in this case) variety of perspectives. There is no attempt at chronology; the songs are episodic, impressionistic dilations of the many feelings that may be tagged as that self-varying nomad, love.
The last EPDM record, From the Valley to the Stars, while beautiful in the same simple, koan-like way as the self-titled album that preceded it, was bathed in an almost liturgical luminosity, sunlight creaking through stained glass, and though sometimes sublime (as on the single, “How Did We Forget”) it was also somewhat off-putting. Listening to it is a bit like watching someone who has lost the plot trying to connect pieces that were never meant to fit together in the first place. And while Love is without doubt an equally personal work, it is more generous in its scope. We float along through the gauzy scenery loved, unloved, burned by love and carriers of the desire to bring it back into the world again and again.
This time around, Assbring enlisted Rasmus Hägg (best known as one half of the smoked out Balearic disco-poppers Studio) to help her out with production, an excellent move in theory that turns out even better in reality. This was pretty clear on the release of “Change of Heart” as an online single earlier in the year, and while the song remains the album’s biggest (if still understated) “wow” moment, the cover of Lou Reed’s “Heavenly Arms” (according to Assbring, the song that made the rest of the album possible), the narcotic, hazy “L is for Love” and twinkling closer “A Better Love” could all be identified as the heart that makes the L circulate from song to song as from one vital organ to the next.
Like Studio’s work, Balearic sunshine gets a dark rift cut through it. Assbring’s voice is like a beacon flashing in a misted over seaside village, shedding light on a confusing and inscrutable landscape that must be traveled. El Perro del Mar songs (like and unlike those of Victoria Bergsman, who worked with the other half of Studio on her East of Eden) often feel like attempts at locating oneself, the creations of someone who always feels a little lost in the world, aware that the answers needed are not readily available, that ecstasy is readily converted into pain and boredom, that simple things both consolidate and conceal the mysteries that make life moving and desirable. With Love Is Not Pop, she manages to stay within this melancholic sensibility but also to raise hope from out of darkened corners, out of thin air.
Whatever love is it cannot be pop, but pop can bring it closer to us, shatter it or fabricate it, and, as in this case, heighten our attention to the way that it never appears in the same guise twice, more truth than fact, more movement to be negotiated than constancy to navigate by.
MP3: “Change of Heart”