Thursday, June 22, 2006

El Perro Del Mar/El Perro Del Mar/8.1

These songs are so intent and intense in their misery that it's almost a little funny-- tragedy amplified into comedy.

Rebecca: This is so bad it's almost good.
Enid: This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.

Those two viewpoints pretty much sum up how listeners are going to feel about El Perro Del Mar. Some listeners will find the combination of retro instrumental tracks and simple sentimental lyrics heartwarming. I find myself in a different camp who find the off key singing grating and the minimalism of the songs uninviting. If you’re looking for something retro and charming, I’d steer you in many other directions.

With new releases by Camera Obscura, Tilly and the Wall and Pipettes, how did 2006 become the Summer of Twee? I don’t mind retro flavored pop, but I tend to partake only on occasion. It’s like Bubble Tea – I enjoy the novelty and the flavor, but don’t drink it on a daily basis (even though I live in walking distance of such an establishment). I also appreciate that influence of 60’s girl groups on the current batch of these artists– the combination of Brill building songwriters, revolutionary production gurus and gifted singers created timeless pop. Artists who try to fill those shoes have to bring at least some combination of those talents to the table. Camera Obscura have songwriting on their side. The Pipettes have the attitude. Tilly and the Wall…well, they have a tap dancer. El Perro Del Mar has some momentarily great production, but the songwriting and singing don’t measure up.

Too many of the songs seems to consist of Assbring cooing the same lyrics over and over and over. On the opening track “Candy”, she squeezes what little flavor exists in the line “I’m going for to get me some candy” while delivering the last part of the line out of pitch (though somehow, the background vocals are spot on). Maybe this is what Ashlee Simpson would sound like unprocessed, but I still wouldn’t want to hear these vocals (though the idea of a clandestine Ashlee Simpson twee project intrigues me). Some folks may find her girlish voice charming; for most of the tracks, it’s hard for me to hear. Besides, if I want to hear teenage girls singing, I can listen to the real deal on Smoosh’s latest.

There are a couple of tracks that work for me, “Coming Down The Hill” and “It’s All Good”. "Coming Down the Hill" has stronger vocal and the repetition of the lyrics sound more like a soul tune than improvised lyrics. "It’s All Good" picks up the temp and again overcomes the simple lyrics with style and sass. Duesner picked up on the appeal of the final track “Here Comes That Feeling” and I have to agree that that cut hooked me as well. However, three tracks are a single, not an LP. Enjoying these tracks as a digital download may be the best way to go (and if you find these tracks too sweet and cloying, stay away from the rest).

Maybe liking El Perro Del Mar is some shibboleth for true hipsterism; it’s on the hard to find Memphis Industries label and sounds like an quirky find after an afternoon of crate diving. If so, fail me as a simple music fan who prefers better songwriting and stronger vocals. El Perro Del Mar’s strange combination of retro charm and intense despair begs for the invention of new genres – Twee-Doom? Twee-Violence? Dark-Twee? However, this invention of micro-genres feels a lot like giving out ribbons at an elementary school track meet – Best Sportsmanship goes to Antwon Belling, Best Dark-Twee song goes to Sarah Assbring. The CD doesn’t quite succeed in any way music typically works, so you have to create new criteria for good music to enjoy it. If you’re looking for something different, El Perro Del Mar is different – however, not necessarily in an appealing way. I’d give this record something in upper fives and advise fans looking to satisfy their sweet tooth to look elsewhere.