San Fermin is the brainchild of Brooklyn's Ellis Ludwig-Leone, an artist with a broad musical background who pursued musical studies at Yale and sharpened his teeth working with avant-garde classical composer Nico Muhly (Björk, Grizzly Bear, Antony & the Johnsons). Emerging in 2013 with their stylistically diverse eponymous debut, the collective's sound has evolved over the years with electronic pop and experimental rock adding new colors to their distinctive modern chamber pop. Filled with blustery, unpredictable, avant-garde arrangements and rooted in the preciousness of indie pop, Ludwig-Leone's debut self-titled record found him joined on vocals by longtime friend Allen Tate as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the Brooklyn group Lucius. The versatile San Fermin saw release in September of 2013. The band toured in support of the debut for much of the next two years, returning in 2015 with their more experimental sophomore album Jackrabbit. While Tate stayed on as the main male vocalist for Jackrabbit, the ensemble vocals of Lucius were replaced by full-time live singer Charlene Kaye. In January 2017 San Fermin issued "Open," the first of two singles -- "Bride" followed a week later -- heralding the arrival of their third studio long-player, the more pop-forward Belong, which dropped in April. Kaye left the group in 2019 to pursue a solo career, but appeared on that year's concert album Live at the Fillmore and in the accompanying documentary No Promises. 2019 also saw the release of The Cormorant, part one of a planned two-part studio LP centered on themes of childhood and the loss of innocence. ~ Jason Lymangrover
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 7, 2017 | Downtown JV
The follow-up to 2015's elaborate and often challenging Jackrabbit, Belong finds San Fermin mastermind Ellis Ludwig-Leone delivering a more streamlined set of chamber pop confections that reflects the group's evolution from his post-Yale composition project to a fully operational and battle-tested band. As per usual, the lineup has been tooled with a bit -- they are now an eight-piece -- but brooding baritone Allen Tate and charismatic N.Y.C. singer/songwriter Charlene Kaye remain the band's vocal mainstays -- Kaye took over for touring vocalist Rae Cassidy in 2014. The aptly named "Open" starts things off disjointedly, with the vaguely humanoid electronic samples that heralded Jackrabbit eventually giving way to elliptical swirls of strings and brass, and steamy electro-beats. Subsequent cuts "Bride" and "Oceanica" continue to flirt with icy European pop textures, with the former invoking names like Susanne Sundfør and Lykke Li, and the latter sharing space with the midnight urban electronica of Sohn and Lapsley -- the slow-burn "Bones" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Frank Ocean's Blond. Ludwig-Leone's arrangements continue to impress with their ability to frame simple melodies with controlled chaos, and Tate and Kaye provide compelling performances throughout, especially on the smoldering title cut, in which they tease each other with the promise/threat "I belong to you, but not all the time." Belong manages to strike a nice balance between San Fermin's musical theater/experimental rock predilections and their emerging pop ambitions, and while there's still a lot to chew on, the taste has grown significantly sweeter. ~ James Christopher Monger
Electronic/Dance - Released April 21, 2015 | Downtown Records - Catalog
San Fermin's self-titled 2013 debut was a heady brew of densely constructed chamber pop, the more abstract moments of the hour-long journey broken up with occasional bursts of more straightforward catchiness. The entire album was masterminded by Ellis Ludwig-Leone after completing a composition program at Yale, calling on various studio players and the vocal talents of Allen Tate and singing ensemble Lucius to bring his intricate vision to life. Following the critical acclaim the album drew, a live version of San Fermin toured extensively before Ludwig-Leone regrouped for follow-up sophomore effort Jackrabbit, which embraced more of the concise pop elements of the debut than its classical or chamber leanings. Where San Fermin felt like an ornate masterpiece intricately assembled in a lab somewhere, Jackrabbit has the sound of amplified confidence and enhanced group playing that comes from nightly live performance. The songs are still boisterous and triumphant, with tunes like the bounding title track and the tense and driving "Woman in Red" stuffed full of colorful sounds but still stripped down in comparison to the saturated orchestration of the first album. Overdriven drum sounds, acrobatic vocals, understated electronics, and horn sections all equate to an enormous pop sound on album standouts like "Emily" and "Ladies Mary," pushing melody and groove to the forefront of the album, though semi-experimental classical impulses still show up in moments like the theatrical interlude "Ecstatic Thoughts" and the chorally driven "Two Scenes." Tate's low and dusty voice still guides many of the album's storytelling songs. Gruesome imagery in the lyrics of album-opener "The Woods" are delivered in a Bill Callahan-like drawl, juxtaposing horrific descriptions of insects and mythical monstrosities with gentle, patient guitar strums and spare strains of piano. Replacing the female vocals of Lucius is touring vocalist Charlene Kaye, whose distant voice runs between metered verses and edgy, distorting crescendos on slinky tracks like "Philosopher." Still rampant with huge statements and arrangements that bubble over and recede on almost every song, Jackrabbit sees San Fermin sounding less like a studio project and more like a band. The performances are strident and lean, suggesting the players are every bit as invested in delivering the best reading of Ludwig-Leone's complex and often gorgeous songs as he was inspired in creating them. ~ Fred Thomas
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