Music Vs. Message
There is a big difference in dynamic between the simple effectiveness of a pop song lyric and the ambient repetition of what laymen lazily refer to as “electronica.” Finding a cohesive middle ground might be possible, but you run the risk of losing the poignancy of either. Pale Fire, the fifth album by El Perro del Mar (Swedish singer/songwriter Sarah Assbring), is her most electronic release to date, and it straddles this middle ground.
Gone are almost all of the acoustic instruments that held prominence on her earlier work, particularly the intensely ’60s El Perro del Mar and the pastoral From the Valley to the Stars. Instead we are ushered into a wave of synthesizers and eclectic beats, all which seek to add deeper emotion to Assbring’s simple broken poetry.
The album has a good range of sounds, from ’90s club beats as in the single “Walk On By” to reggae in the sweet “Love in Vain,” which might be the best song on the record. Consistent with Assbring’s writing from the past, many songs on Pale Fire take a lyric and repeat it endlessly, potentially bleeding the meaning out of what’s being said. This “mantra approach” does work on tracks exhibiting a remix quality, where lyrics are often an afterthought. But there is something about the arrangements that disperse the focus of the songwriting and the messages that she is trying to get across. Certain introductions stretch on for too long like in “Home Is To Feel Like That,” “Love Confusion” and the title track “Pale Fire,” leaving you to wonder if the song is ever going to truly start.
Overall, this is El Perro del Mar evolving, committing fully to the electronic sound that she started to develop on 2009’s Love Is Not Pop. It can be argued that the whole point of an arrangement is to enhance the lyric, not get in its way. Whether the music of Pale Fire does this or not is uncertain.