At it’s best, El Perro Del Mar’s newest release, Love Is Not Pop, makes me want to play Ecco the Dolphin. Not a moment on this album veers out of a dreamy realm, and the constant wafting of tranquilizing synthesizers often make me wish I was side-scrolling my way through an endless, serene series of oceanic levels, colored with a variety of mostly unthreatening marine life.
Then again, Ecco the Dolphin is kind of a boring game if your heart really isn’t into it, and Love Is Not Pop is a similar pop-cultural experience. Catch me in the right mood (agitated but sleepy), and El Perro Del Mar’s latest might be exactly what I want to hear, and that’s not because it is particularly exceptional (it’s not). It’s due to the fact that there isn’t an inkling – not even the faintest sense – of an edge to this album. This is the musical equivalent of drinking NyQuil with warm cream after a long, hot shower.
What‘s more, I suspect this effect wasn’t exactly El Perro Del Mar’s intention. It’s doubtful that Sarah Assbring, the woman behind the moniker, was under the impression that she was making a record that was upbeat in any way, but it seems they were shooting for something that suggested downcast melancholia. The soothing, pulsing rhythms are presumably intended to imply some sort of depressive paralysis, as this is clearly an album about heartbreak. The title is all but an indictment of the notion that romance and all of its entanglements are fodder for music that’s upbeat and catchy. Truthfully, Love Is Not Pop might actually achieve triggering that emotion in the listener provided that the listener is immune to sedatives and muscle relaxants. And it’s worth remembering that there is plenty of room to operate within the bounds of being upbeat and catchy, and inducing a coma in your listener.
Then again, there are a few moments on Love Is Not Pop where you’d probably rather be asleep as opposed to actively listening, even if it is unlikely that even the drowsiest listener would miss the opening lyrical couplet. Yes, El Perro Del Mar is Swedish and, as a result, English probably isn’t their first language, but there are enough English speaking people in the world who probably could have told Assbring that there is no lamer, easier rhyme in the language than “sad” and “mad.” As it shows up on “I Gotta Get Smart,” the line reads, “I’ve got something to tell you/ Don’t want to make you sad/ I’ve got something to tell you/ Don’t want to make you mad.” Again, the language barrier is recognized, and as a mostly monolingual person, I have some respect for people who speak more than one language, but that’s a fairly juvenile understanding of lyricism. Similarly, when Assbring tries to lace a cutesy line into her tales of woe, the results are a little cringe worthy. To wit, from the otherwise enjoyably wistful “A Better Love:” “This isn’t over ‘til I say when…. when…. when.”
Nonetheless, Love Is Not Pop is not an album that conjures up any real aggravation, mainly because any sentiment can only be calming when delivered in the sanded tones of a futuristic hypnotist. At a certain point, the listener has been so completely barraged with ethereality that mentally fading is purely reflexive. If this was El Perro Del Mar’s intention, then bravo. It’s only a matter of time before Love Is Not Pop is tearing it up at day spas.