El Perro del Mar, “Big Anonymous”
By Elle Carroll · February 14, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

There is music and there is silence, and for people devoted to the former it is often far easier to escape into the latter. Such a desire undergirds Big Anonymous, the seventh album by El Perro del Mar’s Sarah Assbring, and her first since 2016’s KoKoro. Across 44 minutes, Assbring contemplates death and loss and, in doing so, traces the ways language and music ultimately falter before the immensity of both. However inadequate music may prove in capturing the totality of grief and its discontents, the depth of feeling and poetic candor Assbring pours into Big Anonymous leaves an indelible impression. One senses that these ten songs were the only acceptable substitute Assbring could countenance for the silence within. Perhaps it was this or quite literally nothing.

To be clear, Big Anonymous is not back-to-back dirges. “Underworld” is a straining string overture in which a cello’s rich timbre reverberates to the furthest edges of the song’s ample space. “Suburban Dreams” is minimalist darkwave stripped down and stretched out. The shambolic ballad “Cold Dark Pond” is produced so starkly that the mechanics of the piano operating—the soft squeak of pedals being pressed underfoot—are clearly audible. There is no pretense to speak of.

At the album’s center sits the instrumental synthscape “The Truth the Dead Know,” a reference to the devastatingly sparse poem of the same name by Anne Sexton, written in the wake of her parents’ deaths within months of each other in 1959. Sexton’s verse straddles the unknowable enormity of death and the all-too-perceptible exhaustion it fosters among the bereaved. That the album’s lyric-free midpoint is named for this poem, wherein Sexton’s language is at its most pointedly deliberate is indicative of the beguiling contradictions that form Big Anonymous’s core.

In Assbring’s purview, darkness and silence are inextricably melded and self-reproducing. On “In Silence,” her voice hovering not far above a whisper: “This silence made me silent/ In blackness do I roam.” And yet Assbring ends the album by repeatedly declaring, “I’m living with the kiss of death/ I’m giving despite the kiss of death/ I’m not living like it is a threat” over a genuinely bright melody elevated by a positively optimistic key change in the final minute. Listening is like watching Assbring discover that the silence within was always there, ready and waiting to take over the second the last synth fades. Life is short, and songs are shorter. One might as well go out on a high note.

Read more in Alternative →

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →