Music Review: San Fermin, San Fermin

Published on September 10th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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San Fermin‘s self-titled debut is wildly ambitious. Full of songs that are like journeys, but journeys that end up in an entirely different place than you thought you might go, it’s a challenging, interesting listen. San Fermin is the brainchild of Yale-educated composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, and he is ably backed by vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (of Lucius) and Allen Tate.

San Fermin opens quietly with “Renaissance!” and a plaintive voice over piano. The added choral backup enters like vengeful angels, and it builds to exquisite bombast. The following track, “Crueler Kind” features the delicate interplay of Wolfe and Laessig and their wash of harmonies like a drunken summer’s day. The music itself sounds a bit like Morphine with a muted trumpet in the vast layers of sound.

The vast layers of sound become a bit overwhelming on lead off single “Sonsick.” Listening to it on headphones was exhausting and assaultive, but stepping back and having not piped directly into one’s brain makes it easier to appreciate. There is a lot going on with this song. The gorgeous voices, once again, of Wolfe and Laessig blend in ridiculously high harmonies that sounded a bit shrieky up close. With the benefit of space between the music and my ears, they’re just sublime.

The Nick Cave-esque baritone croon on “Torero” is sumptuous. Urgent and propulsive, the song could have dissolved into bombast, but instead is restrained and exciting at the same time. No mean feat, that.

The repeated motif of “I can’t fall asleep in your arms” that began on the voluptuous “Casanova” repeats on “The Count”. Using voices as percussion, it’s a Matmos-like, frantic kitchen sink sort of music with a chorus that sounds like it’s sung by a chorus of dead-eyed, creepy children.

Insistent piano, bursting strings, and crystalline harmonies are the hallmark of “Bar,” a striking piece that feels like anxiety about to manifest. The second single “Daedalus (What We Have)” is a grand opus, featuring the wonderfully versatile Wolfe and Laessig. “Altogether Changed,” with its jitters of strings and angelic voices is beautiful, after a fashion, but it also feels like the singing that one does just because it feels good. I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with that.

San Fermin will be a hard first act to follow. It’s not a perfect record, but it is intriguing. It’s disconcerting and striking, lovely and engaging and just a bit long. The “True Love” series (“At Night, True Love” and “True Love, Asleep”) feel rather indulgent. Yes, you do make interesting noises and ruminate on love and nostalgia so very well, but even the Residents edited the dead weight. A bit of pruning helps one grow and would have helped the momentum of this record.

San Fermin will be released by Downtown Records on September 17. In the meantime, you can pre-order the album on iTunes.

Tour Dates:
September 20, 2013: New York, NY – Le Poisson Rouge
September 25, 2013: Montreal, QC Canada – Pop Montreal @ The Church of St. John the Evangelist*
September 27, 2013: Cincinnati, OH – Midpoint Music Festival
September 28, 2013: Champaign-Urbana, IL – Pygmalion Festival
September 29, 2013: Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater
September 30, 2013: Chicago, IL – The Hideout
October 1, 2013: Minneapolis, MN – Bryant Lake Bowl
October 3, 2013: Pittsburgh, PA – Brillobox
October 4, 2013: Toronto, ON Canada – The Drake
October 13, 2013: San Diego, CA – Casbah
October 15, 2013: Los Angeles, CA – The Echo
October 16, 2013: San Francisco, CA – Cafe Du Nord
October 18, 2013: Portland, OR – Bunk Bar
October 19, 2013: Seattle, WA – Barboza
October 20, 2013: Vancouver, BC Canada – The Media Club
October 24, 2013: Washington, DC – DC9
October 25, 2013: Philadelphia, PA – Boot & Saddle
October 26, 2013: Boston, MA – Cafe 939
October 27, 2013: Providence, RI – Columbus Theatre

^with Low

*with Julianna Barwick

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