In the last 2000s and early in this decade, the next great wave of Swedish pop music swept the world. Lykke Li, Tove Lo, Little Dragon, Nikki & the Dove, Miike Snow, and Icona Pop were among this group. Another name that also rose to prominence was Sarah Assbring’s solo project El Perro Del Mar.
While Assbring is unflinchingly a pop artist, the Gothenburg native has constantly tested herself over her 13-year career. From her summery pop beginnings to synth-pop to dance-oriented pop music of her last record Pale Fire, Assbring has never been easy to pigeonhole. Categorizing her has become even more difficult with the arrival of her new record, KoKoro.
El Perro Del Mar’s fifth album is beautifully orchestrated and arranged pop album, as she brilliantly infuses the sounds and influences of Asia and Africa. “Ding Sung” and “Breadbutter” best exemplify Assbring’s sonic fusion with the incorporation of the Chinese Guzheng, the Japanese Shakuhachi, and European electronica. Indian influences are heard on the hypnotic “Nougat Mind”. While the title track, “Kokoro”, is Japanese for heart, the song is driven with tribal percussion. Persia is represented on “Clean Your Window”, as the sitar stars on this stuttering number.
The album is more than just a Kontiki expedition of sound. Beneath the catchy pop melodies and the cultural rhythms and instrumentation are carefully crafted messages. Liberation, specifically freeing one’s mind, is a dominant theme of Kokoro, which helps define the choice of the song title for “Clean Your Window”. Similarly, Assbring expresses on “Breadbutter” the frustration of the disenfranchised, who seek to be challenged, heard, and engaged.
On the jazzy “Hard Soft Hard“ and the brilliant, symphonic opener, “Endless Ways”, Assbring takes an introspective approach. The former more addresses Assbring the individual and how others perceive her. The latter, though, has Assbring reflecting on El Perro Del Mar and her decade-plus as an artist. The song is an honest and open letter that recalls past decisions and encourages herself to “better” herself by taking chances, which she does in spades on KoKoro. It is what makes the album so rewarding – there’s something new and exciting to hear in each track. There are familiar sounds but arranged in different ways to create music that is refreshing. Hopefully, Assbring will continue this journey of reinvention and this endless game of trying to pigeonhole her sound.
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