Legend says that Sarah Assbring thought up the name El Perro del Mar while depressed and vacationing in Spain, when she was lifted out of her sadness by a dog walking along the beach. Now, on her second full-length, her wistful, doe-faced pop recalls that of fellow Swedish pop phenomenon Jens Lekman, but From the Valley to the Stars presents a sadder way to combine depression with melody, replete with hushed theatrics and the minimalist dead spirits of ’60s girl groups. In lieu of Lekman’s promiscuous instrumentation and sampling—and despite accompaniments by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and Choir—Assbring seems content to settle here for an organ and some chanting dirges. There are uplifters, of course, like “How Did We Forget?” or “Somebody’s Baby,” which evoke the twee, hip-shaking bubblegum pop of her first, self-titled album. But they’re sadly out of place amid the cognitive dissonance of tranquil suicide-note ruminations like “Do Not Despair” and “Happiness Won Me Over.” Even on more upbeat tunes like “Your Name Is Neverending,” the sad timbre of Assbring’s voice— unfailingly angelic—merely drifts along with a Nick Drake/Elliott Smith sort of desolation, cutesy chimes be damned. Serene but emotionally flat, Valley feels like too much church on a cold Sunday afternoon. Someone needs to head back to the beach.
El Perro del Mar plays Joe’s Pub May 7 and Bowery Ballroom May 8