Midway through her hushed second album, El Perro del Mar's sole member, Sarah Assbring, delivers what may be this record's thesis: “This is the message that comes from above: ‘Do not despair, do not despair.'” This is a sincere — even optimistic — work: Gone is Assbring's ear-bending device of crooning happy songs in a sad, shell-shocked voice. On much of From the Valley to the Stars, this Gothenburg, Sweden musician sings in a whisper that's even softer and distinctly less distressed than the one she employed on her comparatively lively 2006 debut. That disc's girl-group inspirations are subtler this time, with results that are less indiepop and closer to the adrift ambience of Brian Eno's Another Green World. Organ sounds gently dominate, emphasizing a prayerfulness Brian Wilson would understand; they're so minimal that on “Inner Island” the keyboard simply hums the same faint “ommmm” for the entire song as if in deep meditative chant.
Despite a bittersweet bounce that at times recalls fellow Gothenburg native Jens Lekman — particularly on the album's atypically perky and most single-worthy cut “Somebody's Baby” — From the Valley feels like a unified whole. Brief instrumentals like “Inside the Golden Egg” tie the album together, and the movement from the not-exactly-elated-but-at-least-expectant opening cut “Jubilee” to the nearly-folky closing “Your Name Is Neverending” is calming, reassuring. Cynics may dismiss El Perro del Mar's latest as a New Age or Christian album, and they'd only be half-wrong. This soothing record aims to heal in its own winsome way.