El Perro Del Mar, Love Is Not Pop
A break-up-to-make-up album packed with paradox
Sarah Assbring must be a restless soul. Abandoning both the lo-fi Phil Spector-isms of her debut and the liturgical lilt of From the Valley to the Stars, Assbring here embraces glossy and contemporary post-dance music. Where kindred spirit — and fellow Swede — Victoria Bergsman teamed up with Studio's Dan Lissvik for her recent East of Eden, Assbring pairs with that same disco duo's other half, Rasmus Hägg. The results aren't quite synthpop — keyboards are only an ingredient — and it's not quite Balearic, as drums feature prominently only in the three remixes added to this international edition. There's not a reggae rhythm to be heard, but dub dropouts and echoing effects abound. As its title suggests, Love Is Not Pop is a break-up-to-make-up album packed with paradox.
It begins with a warning. "We've been together for so long/I've gotta get smart," she tells herself and her beloved. Assbring no longer seems on the verge of perpetual tears, but she's just as expressive. On "Change of Heart," she seems resigned, but her words trip her up. "We will never stop," she chants. Does she mean that she and her partner will forever together endure, or that they'll hurt each other for eternity? When the shuffling drums cut out and the wordless choral part comes in to suggest a heaven packed with overdubbed Sarahs it's beautiful and disturbing — like a great Lou Reed song, without sounding a bit like him.
So it's fitting that Love is Not Pop includes a version of the former Velvet Underground leader's "Heavenly Arms." The closing ballad on Reed's pointedly sober 1982 album The Blue Mask, Reed chants the name of his then-wife Sylvia. He also utters the line, "Only a woman can love a man," which of course suggests a fundamentalist rejection of his pansexual past and songbook. Underplaying the devotion but emphasizing an ethereal sensuality, Assbring doesn't change a word, and consequently flips Reed's ode to healing heterosexuality into an even more haunting (if fleetingly contradictory) declaration of same-sex desire.
On her song cycle's conclusion "A Better Love," she declares, "This isn't over ’til I say when," and then adds a couple more "when"s, as if simultaneously calling the shots and calling it quits. Over pulsing bass and harp-like fluttering, Assbring adds, "You deserve a better love than me/I caused you so much pain," and underlines that admission with another self-created choir of sighs. The appended remixes are terrific, but this sentiment makes for the perfect finale.