Published Sep 14, 2016Avid Swedish musical experimenter El Perro Del Mar (Sarah Assbring) is finally back to deliver floaty, quirky gems. Her first full-length album since 2012's stunningly surreal, dream-like succession of tracks Pale Fire, KoKoro finds the Scandinavian beauty departing from her signature melancholic pop style to embark on a journey of cultural instrumental exploration.
Exploring the sounds and textures of Chinese string instrument the guzheng and the Japanese shakuhachi flute, as well as the dulcimer, Assbring offers listeners a musical cornucopia. KoKoro is brimming with rhythms inspired by Ethiopian music, with an album title that no doubt is derived from the Japanese word for "heart," a sound choice given the LP's humanistic and culturally diverse themes.
Never one to shy away from complex musical and personal stylizations, Assbring is distancing herself even further from Western sounds here, from the first full bars of "Endless Ways" — an eerie study on the concept of self-worth — to the chaotic yet controlled concoction of spoken and sung sounds in "Kouign-Amman." KoKoro features slightly electronically altered vocals that Assbring seems to adore lately, creating a breathy feminine effect. The title song sets a precedent for the album's percussive heartbeat, and is possibly the most single-ready addition to the project despite "BreadandButter" and "Ding Sum" having already preceded it in that regard. The simple repetition exhibited in "KoKoro" is catchy and endearing, proving a more danceable quality than her past work had.
By her own admission, Assbring sees her newest album as a Dadaistic expression of the universal desire to come together, and it is indeed less singular and introspective than her previous music. KoKoro proves her undying artistry with an obvious focus on beauty and the human heart. It's decidedly more optimistic than usual, even if tracks like "Hard Soft Hard," with its depictions of moody highs and lows, will be familiar to fans.
Assbring has distanced herself from the mainstream here, choosing to listen exclusively to Indian, Japanese, Thai and Chinese pop music. "BreadandButter" finds her drawing everyone together, claiming "We all come from the same bread and butter." Her choice to fuse a slew of different cultural musical attributes hints at not only a lyrical coming together but an instrumental one, too.
If Pale Fire read like a dream, KoKoro reads like a worldly, real-life adventure. Often concerned with themes of self-reflection and the bettering of one's self, Assbring jumps to thoughts on the human romantic experience with "Ging Ging," then pulls the listener into "Ding Sum," a heart-to-heart with unknowing and naïve consumers about capitalism: "I close my eyes, I think of all the things I don't want. I think of how unhappy these things make me. And then...I'm free." (The Control Group)