If I had to identity the sound of "From the Valley to the Stars," it would be a church organ possessed by the spirit of sixties folk-pop and a pint-sized orchestral section.
In fact, El Perro Del Mar's latest album mostly focuses on delicate, soaring little chamberpop arrangements with a quasi-religious sound and a folky airiness. Yeah, that sounds appallingly twee, but it ends up becoming incredibly pretty, mellow and catchy, with a jazzy undertone that runs just under the organ folkpop and fairylike vocals though it hits a few speedbumps along the way ("It's easy, babe/It's easy babe").
It opens with "Jubilee," a wispy confection that is all organ, all the time. Sarah Assbring introduces her soft vocals by just sort of murmuring: "Jubilee/jubilee/jubilation..." repeatedly. Intro time!
Things get a bit more poppy with the swaying, flute-riddled "Glory to the World," which seems to be half enchanted hymn, half children's song ("Look at the clouds today/they sure make funny shapes"). And then there's the jittery prettiness of "You Can't Steal A Gift" floats along on a sea of vaguely jazzy instrumentation, along with that same ethereal flute. The woman sounds a bit tightly wound here, but still good.
And with that, El Perro Del Mar drifts into a warm, shimmering sea of gentle pop music -- languid jazzy ballads, warm piano melodies, soaring pop with exquisite classical instrumentation, a few ballads wrapped in trembling organ, and even an unexpectedly upbeat tune called "Somebody's Baby," where it sounds like Sarah Assbring just wanted to get up and dance.
Don't worry, it drifts back into the sunny, sweet territory with the wispy "The Sun is an Old Friend," and promptly winds the album down the crystalline purity of "Happiness Won Me Over" and the title track's spacey sweet quirkiness.
So basically "From the Valley To The Stars" is a silky little amalgam of hymns, Phil Spector pop melodies, and a delicately floaty flowers-prayer-stars-and-clouds focus that gives it a soft, almost childlike sound. The different songs could have used a little more differentiation in the instrumentation, but this is a relatively minor complaint -- most of the album is simply exquisite.
Most of that exquisiteness comes from the instrumentation -- we have a slightly off-key flute tune, a flicker of synth here and there, mellow brass , a few pastoral sounds, and soaring strings that murmur throughout the more complex songs. And the gently trickling piano turns all fun and energetic in "Somebody's Baby." But all of this is ruled over by the organ -- it reminds me of an antique pipe organ at a church I once attended. Songs like "Do not Despair" are filled with its transcendent, trembly sound.
And that spiritual sound trickles over into the lyrics ("The stars send a message from far above/I think it's a lesson that's filled with love... do not despair"). Assbring's voice adds to that impression -- she sounds very innocent, breathy and childlike, even when singing the more awkward lyrics ("It's easy babe") or ones that would sound silly and unnatural coming from someone else ("Don't cast away your inner island").
El Perro Del Mar expertly mingles chamberpop, folk and a touch of pipe organ, making "From The Valley To The Stars" a unique and lovely pop experience. Definitely worth hearing.