If rock & roll is the devil's music, From the Valley to the Stars is what it would have sounded like if the angels never let it go. El Perro Del Mar—led by singer Sarah Assbring, who is joined by several fellow Swedes playing traditional instruments, most prominently recorder and church organ—have made an album of heavenward-gazing grassroots gospel as beautiful as it is sincere.
"Jubilee" is chamomile crunk, with the words "jubilee" and "jubilation" gently repeated over a calliope keyboard melody in a freefall. The dulcimer swoon of "To Give Love" sounds like an Amish Arcade Fire, and things even get a little sultry when "Somebody's Baby" starts to strut in a Cowboy Junkies-like way. But even when EPDM let down their hair—as on the horn-stab swing of "How Did We Forget?"—it's like the waterlogged beauty of an Andrew Wyeth painting soaking in its own wistfulness, only a little more brightly. Sigh.
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The Cocteau Twins saw the afterlife as being fluttery, but also uncannily familiar—Heaven or Las Vegas, as they put it. By contrast, EPDM see heaven, or at least the path to it, as even more earthbound. "The Sun Is an Old Friend," "You Belong to the Sky Now," the title track and "Into the Sunshine" all shimmer and sway, but in a solemn, worldly manner. In this way, From the Valley to the Stars is buttoned-down hymns that pass as church music for indie kids, the same way Sigur Rós pass for opera. As Assbring sings on "Inner Island," "Don't cast away your inner island/It's where you went as a child, it's where you long to go still," and where EPDM are always shipwrecked, seeing the Rapture—the religious one, not the new-wave band—around them.