When Alex and I used to go to shows in college, we were hopeful. We'd look at each other, before the music started, and would say, "What if this is the best thing we've ever heard?" Usually it wasn't, though we did make it to Elliott Smith in Chicago, Wilco in Detroit and Columbus, Damien Jurado in Bloomington, and of course, Appleseed Cast came to our measly campus and tore my ears off. So sure, we were setting ourselves up for disappointment by asking the question, but we were also opening ourselves up to possibility, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Now, Alex and I have kids, and we don't really go to shows much. (I saw Of Montreal in Lexington and the Strokes in Minneapolis [sorry, Dan], but Alex couldn't make it - maybe that makes him a better father, I'm not sure). And the closest thing either of us has to that pre-show experience is going to the Jessamine County Public Library. And we can't really do that together any more. He goes with Elliott, and I go with Margot.
On Sunday last, Margot and I went to get some movies and see about some music, and I saw this stunning cover in the popular section. The last time I judged an album by its cover was Jenny Lews and the Watson Twins, and I'm glad I did. This time, however, was El Perro del Mar's self-titled 2006 album.
The first time I played it, my mind was out of control with geek-music-lover thoughts: I wish I had a time machine, and I would go back to 2006, and I would re-write my top-ten list on Alex's blog's comment section, and I would add El Perro del Mar at about the #5 slot, or maybe, no, maybe the #4 slot, or, well...It is really good...it could be #2. And then, on the second listen, I checked myself and realized I had begun a thought sentence with, "I wish I had a time machine..." and I felt embarrassed, though I was home alone at the time.
The album is, for lack of better terms, nearly perfect to me. Not as stripped down as Beach House, but not as lush as Air can sometimes be. Not as dour as CocoRosie or Chan Marshall, but not unlike all of these acts either. And what's more: El Perro del Mar has smartly employed that little southern-soul-60's-pop tool that Cat Power and Jenny Lewis found so useful in 2006 as well.
The first track, "Candy," makes me think of the Velvet Underground, not so much through its sound, but through its sensibility: this is "candy" no one is sure about: "candy" on a Saturday night, "candy" that must be bought. In short, "candy" that makes me a little uncomfortable, being from the Mid-West and all. That said, the track is an extremely strong opener, and the background vocals, the shoo-be-doo-wah-bahs, slide you right into the sonic space you need to occupy for the rest of the album.
The second track, "God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)," sounds like The Crystals, or maybe even Dusty Springfield, on [insert anti-depressant/mood adjuster joke here]. El Perro del Mar runs into Cat Power's The Greatest here as well. The sentiment of the song, stripped of all sentimentality, is suitably contemporary - dark, unsure, ambiguous, and anxious.
"Party" sounds like the sort of party I wouldn't want to go to, or the sort of party I would leave quickly. But again, the hooks grab you: "Be-bah...Bee-bop-a-lulah," and things become sad and pretty at the same time.
"I Can't Talk About It" - not dissimilar to something Arcade Fire might shoot for, at least in part, and just as catchy as anything.
"Here Comes that Feeling," which employs a horn section that'll draw you back to a strange and synthetic soul - a soul heard through bad memories, a sound that has survived the 80's, the 90's, war, famine, and translation by a Swedish singer.
Go to her myspace. See if you agree. If you're at all interested in well-crafted pop, a little jingle-jangle, tapping your feet or clapping your hands, then this might be your album. As it happens now, when we put it on, Margot stops crawling, rocks back and forth "to the beat," and seems to get very attentive. This is the litmus test in our house. If you can't come with a beat, come not at all.