Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

El Perro del Mar stares down death on Big Anonymous

"Big Anonymous"

Release date: 16 February 2024
El Perro Del Mar Big Anonymous cover
19 March 2024, 00:00 Written by Michael Hoffman

Sarah Assbring knows deeply that some of the most difficult experiences in life take a long time to confront and process.

Big Anonymous was initially written as a live performance in 2019, but the five year span between writing and recording speaks to the sheer scope of an album that meditates on the many ways we try to avoid, ignore, or even talk about our relationship with death. Big Anonymous bookends themes Assbring began exploring in her second album, From the Valley to the Stars, released around the time her grandfather and brother died. Yet as a sister album, Big Anonymous is bigger, bolder, and darker than its predecessor, exploring the way death and loss transform into all-consuming grief. "It's not you haunting me," Assbring sings, "It's my mind disturbing / disturbing peace / disturbing dreams."

From the first minutes of Big Anonymous, it's clear that this project is a marked departure from earlier entries in the El Perro del Mar catalog, and its strength lies in its shapeshifting, cinematic grandiosity. Big Anonymous is El Perro del Mar’s most ambitious release to date, with an expansive production that shines beyond any of her previous efforts - and proof that her work stands up to the best experimental rock and art-pop out there. With dynamic songs that call to mind the atmospherics of Ethel Cain ("Suburban Dreams, "In Silence," "Kiss of Death"), Grouper ("Underworld," "Cold Dark Pond") and Have a Nice Life, ("Wipe Me Off this Earth"), El Perro del Mar takes her penchant for experimentation and melds her signature sound with dark, ambient electronica and abrasive industrial distortion.

The haunting drama of loss begins on "Suburban Dreams," a gothic, dream pop gem, where Assbring sings, "That's why you cry / Your suburban dreams gone to waste / It's the scariest thing / Gone to nothing, gone away" as painstakingly layered, gauzy vocals and plodding drum kits build up to a crescendo that rivals some of Kate Bush's best songs. Assbring's songwriting and production skills are on full display here, and despite the heavy, darker sounds on the album, fans will still recognize her signature blend of atmospheric 60s-inflected pop - especially with her decision to include a contorted Drifter's cover, "Please Stay," which is more fully realized than any of the doo-wop elements threaded through her previous work.

Throughout the album, El Perro del Mar's delicate vocals float above and between ghostly ambience, white noise, reverbed choral backing, expansive orchestral string arrangements, and bright synths that cut like daggers through the darkness of warped, industrial beats. No one sound overtakes the album; rather, Assbring balances the disparate elements with deft precision, stretching her vocals to new peaks and despairing depths amid the varied instrumentation. Haunting falsettos are at times dragged and warped through dark territory ("Cold Dark Pond," and "Wipe Me off This Earth") and flung back toward brighter synths and lighter themes of acceptance, as she sings on the transcendent closer, "Kiss of Death": "Tears fall lesser now...It's the love that remains / So I tell myself."

Big Anonymous is a journey into the depths of depravity and gloom that dealing with loss and death can sometimes bring but emphasizes the glimmers of hope that float to the surface. Although Assbring initially couldn’t find the words to express her grief, Big Anonymous became the perfect vessel to finally capture those feelings, and it is easily El Perro del Mar's most impressive work to date. In lesser hands, such difficult topics might have been rendered in a cliché, one-sided way. But Assbring manages to deliver a heart rending, honest, multifaceted meditation on grief in a tightly-penned ten track album that demands nothing less than our full attention.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next