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Written and produced by El Perro Del Mar & Jacob Haage, the 10 original songs of ‘KoKoro’ are her most ambitious and musically adventurous to date, yet no less emotionally direct, covering themes that speak to both big and small matters of the heart. With the state of the planet - musically, politically, environmentally - on her mind since the birth of her son, Assbring sees ‘KoKoro’ as not only an album but also as an aesthetic and political movement of sorts. She explains: “‘KoKoro’ is about the vulnerability and the strength of the heart. What the heart is exposed to, both internally and externally. The heart cannot be protected. Not from pain, not from happiness. Not from love, not from corruption. I've been thinking a lot about issues such as ‘who am I if the social norms, expectations and pressures I carry were to be stripped away? Hard? Soft? Or maybe both? In a time that seems to go backwards humanistically and morally, seeking to put up walls rather than tearing them down, I realized I wanted to make a borderless album that belongs nowhere but has a universal voice and a universal heart.”
With soundscapes that echo of Thailand, Sumatra, India, Ethiopia, and China, the orchestration of ‘KoKoro’ is unlike any of El Perro Del Mar’s previous releases, a direction only hinted briefly on the ‘Pale Fire’ LP highlight “I Was A Boy.” It features the Chinese string instrument Guzheng, the Japanese Shakuhachi flute, various other Asian flutes, Arabic strings, Dulcimer, and rhythms influenced by Ethiopian music. Assbring explained, “One of my absolute clearest aims was to distance myself from the kind of common Western sound of today” in an effort to “find a new way to write relevant pop music with references and influences that feel fresh.” ‘KoKoro’ was inspired by legendary singers like Pakistan’s great Sufi exponent Abida Parveen and Nahid Akhtar, India’s Asha Bhosle, Ethiopia’s Yeshimebet Dubale, Cambodia’s Sinn Sisamouth, and South Korea’s Kim Jung Mi, as well as Ethiopian musician Enimut Kindie, Javanese gamelan music, and Chinese guzheng music. The album was recorded with multi-instrumentalist Andreas Söderström, bassist Johan Berthling, drummer Mattias Bergqvist, who has collaborated with First Aid Kit, and wind multi-instrumentalist Per “Ruskträsk” Johansson, who has collaborated with Robyn, José González, among many others.
The first single “Breadandbutter” is about finding a means to communicate and find solidarity among people, while other songs on ‘KoKoro’ implore for self-reflection and self-improvement across friendships, relationships, and life at large in an effort to reach enlightenment. Capitalism’s arguably toxic effect on the human spirit is addressed on “Ding Sum,” where El Perro Del Mar sings, “Pics of girls and ads of boys / Hit you, hit you as you go / There's a notice for your heart / To want a bit of what they got (Gimme it, gimme all!) / Listen, you got robbed / But it’s not your fault.”
Last year, El Perro Del Mar reissued her self-titled, critically acclaimed debut album in celebration of its 10 year anniversary, earning praise from Pitchfork for “the way it stripped girl-group pop songs down to their barest essentials and used them to express immense inner sadness.” HBO’s ‘Girls’ featured its single “God Only Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)” in the closing credits of an episode in Season 4. More recently, El Perro Del Mar released covers of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Breaking The Girl,” which was recorded for her 2012 album ‘Pale Fire’ but not included, and Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” in honor of what would have been the late legend’s 58th birthday. For the former, she partnered with Fred Armisen to direct its music video, who praised her “romantic and dreamy music” in an interview with Rolling Stone.
1. Endless Ways
4. Clean Your Window
5. Ging Ging
8. Hard Soft Hard
9. Ding Sum
10. Nougat Mind