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    Friday, March 14, 2008

    I lost the blues I lost the blues for you

    I know I should be writing about current music, this being one of those shiny newfangled MP3 thingies I've been hearing so much about. But today, I can't. It'd be disingenuous to pretend I can listen to anything but a nearly two-year-old song, "Coming Down The Hill" by El Perro del Mar. Since recently getting her new album, From The Valley to the Stars, I decided I should first revisit 2006's self-titled effort. Most people remember El Perro del Mar for the lead single, catchy retro-pop bopper "God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)" but my go-to song was always the downer "I Can't Talk About It." The rest of the album tended to blend together for me, all pleasant and atmospheric but ultimately too similar. I never expected that one of the tracks would snag my attention as unilaterally as it has, commandeering my iPod for over three hours now.

    "Coming Down The Hill" is deceptively simple, and a scan of the lyrics wouldn't suggest that there's much going on. Sarah Assbring announces "I've got some good news," which turns out to be "I lost the blues for you." It's a pretty line, but nothing particularly revelatory. What gives the song its profound power is her delivery, tinged with trace elements of regret, reticence, acceptance, and even hope. In one line, it sounds like she's going through all five stages of the Kübler-Ross grieving model at once. (Well, maybe not anger.) On the word "news," her voice climbs into some majestic register, becoming sparrow-like and vapory. She keeps repeating every line as if she needs to convince herself of its truth, while vocally suggesting that the healing process is only beginning.

    The title action, coming down the hill, also gets more interesting on further glance. Normally, we'd associate being high with happiness and being low with depression. (Even the word "depression" itself is literally a low point.) But here, El Perro del Mar is moving on by coming down, as if she's finally ready to walk among other people again. The hill sounds like her self-exile, a sentence of solitary confinement while she nurses her wounds. Maybe (and I'm pretty sure I'm reading too far into this) it even half-alludes to Moses coming down from Sinai, but instead of delivering Biblical gospel, Assbring can only offer the small matter of her personal resolution.

    But whatever its virtues, I know the main reason I relate to this song so suddenly is that I've been at my own nadir lately. These last few months have been notably awful, all defense mechanisms and anxiety attacks. I got sidetracked by the wrong things, and a lot of what I was hoping for didn't pan out. All the while, I kept waiting for my spell to break, for my momentum to reverse. Well, I finally think it's starting to--gradually, cautiously, but happening all the same. And that transition is the perfect timing for rediscovering "Coming Down The Hill," a song explicitly about transition. In a less capable singer's hands, it could've been facile or one-dimensionally celebratory, but El Perro del Mar sounds too close to the blues to downplay their damage. She realizes that even the cleanest of breaks will leave some scars. She knows moving on is a lot simpler than it sounds, and that moving forward is a tender process.

    * MP3: "Coming Down The Hill" - El Perro del Mar from El Perro del Mar [Buy it]
    * Website: El Perro del Mar

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