Swedish musician Sarah Assbring is back for her fifth studio album as her lo-fi pop alter ego, El Perro Del Mar. The album, “Pale Fire,” ventures headfirst into her signature indie pop style, though its missteps are made even more obvious by the record’s own highs.
My favorite track on the album, “Hold Off The Dawn,” plays with Assbring’s airy, whimsical voice, weaving it seamlessly in and out of a number of electronic instruments and effects. The layers of sound are complex and numerous, but they make sense with each other and come together surprisingly easily to create an indie-pop sound that’s both catchy and refreshing.
With such a complex, layered aesthetic, it’s inevitable that the components won’t always come together as seamlessly as others. “I Carry the Fire” falls victim to this pitfall, Assbring’s soft, ethereal vocals not quite connecting and harmonizing with jerky, jarring melody. The elements are too discordant to create one coherent song, a misfire that unfortunately permeates a number of the other songs on the album.
“Walk On By” is fairly innocuous, with a catchy ska-pop vibe, Assbring’s signature vocals and relatively straightforward background instrumentation. Though I didn’t find “To the Beat of a Dying World” aurally pleasing (too repetitive, both lyrically and rhythmically, for me), I do commend it for highlighting and respecting Assbring’s voice. On the opening and title track “Pale Fire,” her singing gets lost in and outshone by the intricacies of the elaborate background instruments. “Love Confusion” treats her vocals like any other instrument on the song, using it as a vehicle to deliver overly electronic effects to the listener instead of letting them revel in its natural wonder. Though El Perro Del Mar delivers an interesting, complex sound on her album “Pale Fire,” the overall result suffers from an over abundance of instrumental effects and missed opportunities to utilize Assbring’s natural talents.