In Canto IX of Dante Alighieri's Purgatorio (the second book of his Divine Comedy), Dante falls asleep and is lifted out of a Valley to the gates of Purgatory; he then climbs up Mt. Purgatory itself and reaches the top, where he begins his ascent to heaven itself, "pure and prepared to leap up to the stars." He has gone, essentially, "From the Valley to the Stars," which just so happens to be the title of El Perro del Mar's's second full-length album. I have no idea if Sarah Assbring -- the genius behind El Perro del Mar -- had Dante in mind when she put this album together, but there's no doubt that it walks a similar thematic path, striving and reaching for a heaven that seems not quite entirely out of reach, yet just far enough to require hope.
At moments, From The Valley To The Stars calls to mind another Divine Comedy, namely the album of the same name by Milla Jovovich, recorded well before she was killing zombies or saving the world from Gary Oldman, albeit with more modern, electronica influences layered atop the folky, melancholic backdrop. "Jubilee," the album opener, sounds something like a lo-fi Mentos commercial might sound if Mentos was selling salvation instead of breath mints, all church organ and a vaguely choral doo-wah-ish cry of "Jubilation" chopped up into bits and stitched back together. "Glory to the World" takes a similar tack, chanting the song's title over a loopy 60s spy movie soundtrack with a swinging beat and trilling flute; the tone is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but rather exists in a sort of hopeful Limbo in between.
Most of the album's 16 tracks are fairly short, the shortest clocking in at just over a minute and the longest coming in at 3:43, yet each one -- like a Canto in Dante's Comedy -- packs in a powerful message and a blast of emotion. "How Did We Forget" builds slowly from nothing, layering sweet vocals underneath a brassy '70s sound as it bemoans the past; "To Give Love" begins like a skipping record before layering in rich, deep vocals in all the right places; "Do Not Despair" sums up the album, mournful organ and sweetly sung vocals seemingly ironic, yet unmistakably sincere. Yet despite the sadness there is no misery here, no despair, not even on album closer "Your Name Is Neverending," where gentle guitar supports Assbring's tender vocals: "You are a memory, these days it's all you are/ I have a memory, sometimes it's all I've got." There is absence, yes, but as they say, it only makes the heart grow fonder.
Favorite Track: "From the Valley to the Stars"
Michael Fiegel is a freelance writer and graphic designer. His diverse
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