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El Perro Del Mar’s All-Swedish Mixtape: ABBA, the Concretes, Young Lean, and More

The Scandinavian mope-pop chanteuse has just released the deluxe reissue of her debut album

If there’s anything El Perro Del Mar — a.k.a. Swede-pop staple Sarah Assbring — understands, it’s how to, as she puts it, create music that’s “heartbreaking and euphoric at the same time.” On her self-titled debut album, released in 2005 and now reissued for its ten-year anniversary, Assbring sighs through sweetly mournful ’60s-inspired pop tracks (“God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get),” “Candy”) worthy of golden-age Phil Spector and the Ronettes (if Ronnie & Co. suffered from severe vitamin D deficiency, that is).

Her plaintive lyrics, which frequently mention depressive isolation (“Is it so hard to see? / I just want to be your friend”), come encased in wistful tambourine, swelling strings, and rich harmonies. Assbring is quick to acknowledge the source of her (and her contemporaries’) songwriting: the long, sunless Swedish winter. “The darkness is the toughest thing. It’s in our genes, more or less,” she says. “It has a deep impact on who you are and what you think and what you feel, what you write and what kind of music you make.” 

Scandinavia’s less-than-ideal weather patterns have not depleted Assbring’s output, though. Not only is she busy promoting the rebirth of El Perro Del Mar (the deluxe edition of which is out today and features b-sides, demos, and acoustic sessions), Assbring is finishing a follow-up to 2012’s Pale Fire that’ll drop sometime in 2016. But to celebrate a decade of El Perro Del Mar, Assbring has created an all-Swedish playlist for SPIN, which she delves into in a track-by-track discussion. Stream her picks — which range from disco staples like ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” to mid-aughts indie-pop — below and grab the El Perro Del Mar deluxe edition on the Control Group.

1. Waldemar Åhlén, “I denna ljuva sommartid”

This is a pastoral, a classic. I’m a sucker for pastorals in songs. It’s to do with the Swedish soul and the music soul. There’s the melancholy, but it’s also the coming of spring, the coming of summer, and the sun is coming back and all of the feelings you have when that happens. It’s heartbreaking and euphoric at the same time. It’s connected to the way I feel about music, why I write music, being heartbreaking and euphoric at the same time. 

2. Alice Boman, “Over”

Alice Boman is someone I’ve discovered quite recently. Her songs just got to me in a way I really haven’t experienced in a while — especially with that mellow, singer-songwriter music. There is something really heartfelt and striking about her simple songs. 

3. The Concretes, “Lonely As Can Be”

Victoria [Bergsman] ended up being a close friend of mine. I just feel like now having this tenth anniversary, I’m voluntarily and involuntarily going back ten years ago and remembering what it was like at the time and what music was around and what music sounds like today as opposed to what it sounded like then — which is a huge difference when you come to think about it. There are so many amazing songs on The Concretes, and I think that Victoria especially is a genius at writing perfect pop songs. 

4. Magnus Uggla, “Varit kär”

Magnus Ola is the pop grandfather of Sweden. He came around in the early ’70s being very glam and very punk, and he’s still making music today. I grew up listening to him. His music was on the radio all the time. When you go through the albums he’s done (the early ones), you really admire him because he did a lot of good stuff. Listening to the older stuff now, he reminds me more of Ariel Pink and Leigh Bowery

5. Young Lean, “Hurt”

Young Lean is this grime rapper dude. I’ve been crazy about grime since the very beginning of the grime era. Even though there are a lot of things that don’t really appeal to me about the music, this song in particular I really love. It also shows what’s happening in Sweden, music-wise, today. 

6. Stina Nordenstam, “From Cayman Islands With Love”

Stina Nordenstam is by far one of the most important Swedish artists that’s had the most impact on me — especially as a teenager. She has a gloomy, almost passive-aggressive violent way of writing lyrics while still being very mellow, melancholic, and soft. She definitely shaped the way I grew up. When I think about her music, I see myself walking around with my Walkman and being very melodramatic and teenage-y. 

7. Zhala, “Prophet”

Zhala is an amazing woman on Robyn’s record label. She’s about to release her debut. She’s this amazing person who’s producing herself a lot. She’s doing something very unique and new. You just have to listen to it and you’ll understand. She’s taking pop music somewhere else. I’m feeling quite bored with the sound that’s been going on for the past five years or so, and Zhala feels like a breath of fresh air.

8. ABBA, “Dancing Queen”

When I was a kid, my dad used to make these cassette compilations for me with mixed music and storytelling, and he put ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” on there. Every time I think of “Dancing Queen,” I think of those cassettes, and every time I hear it, I think of stories of fairies. To me, “Dancing Queen” sounds more escapist than disco. It’s meant a lot of things for me — even though I didn’t quite realize it when I was growing up. I’m a total sucker for a good, perfect song, and there’s no denying that “Dancing Queen” is a perfect pop song. That’s a pop song does: It makes go to a dream world.

9. Makthaverskan, “Asleep”

Here’s another Gothenburg indie band. “Makthaverskan” means “woman in charge” or “woman in power.” When I first heard this song one year ago, I felt like there are still ways of writing a really great indie-pop song. You feel like you just want to dance and you feel very happy. I’ve really not listened to indie-pop music for a long time, so it feels fresh to me. Lately, I’ve just been very much into hip-hop, so going into something else feels really fresh. It’s just one of those songs that you love instantly. Every time I DJ, I play “Asleep,” even though it doesn’t fit into my set. I just have to play it.

10. Dr. Alban, “No Coke”

Dr. Alban was huge when I was about 12 or 13 years old. He was this Nigerian dentist or something in Sweden and started making really commercial pop songs. He was so huge, and everyone my age loved him. Looking back, he’s still great — especially that song. It’s also something I wanted to put in this playlist to add diversity of Swedish music going back in time. This must’ve been late ’80s, very early ’90s.

11. Franke, “Stalls Mot Dig”

Franke is another indie band from Gothenburg that I think only released one or two albums. They’re like the Joy Division of Gothenburg. This song is really dark and punchy — very Gothenburg. It was also a huge deal for me when I started writing songs as El Perro del Mar ten years ago, in that it was very emotional and very dark, heavy and very beautiful. They’ve been almost forgotten, and that’s why I wanted to include “Stalls Mot Dig” to this mix. 

12. Traditional (Stella Kammarkör), “Den blomstertid nu kommer”

This is another pastoral song which every school kid in Sweden sings before summer break. You go out in the school yard and you sing this song. It’s stuck in every Swede’s soul. I remember when my dad heard it when we sang it, and when my dad heard “school is over and summer is starting” he always cried. I remember thinking, “What’s the matter with him? Why is he crying?” And now I can totally understand that because something happens to you when you hear it. It’s also to do with the heartbreaking and euphoric thing, that mixture, it does something to your heart that you cannot control or cannot hold back. I’m sure there are songs like that for you as an American, where you feel like this is going to be with me all my life whether I like it or not.