San Fermin – San Fermin

San FerminHow can anyone born Ellis Ludwig-Leone not be destined for greatness? Following graduation from Yale University, he is the driving force behind San Fermin, with their recent self-titled debut gaining critical acclaim on both sides of the pond.

Two fundamental aspects, both of which are rarely seen in people’s music collections, define San Fermin's album. Firstly, the genre is a blend of high-brow classical compositions, spoken word poetry and feel-good pop. Somehow this works magically and really is a blend rather than a clash of styles. Secondly, the album has a continuous narrative, providing a welcome rejection of the hit single format. Unusually it is a story not from a single perspective, but an imaginary dialogue between an unhappy but hopeful man and an elusive and cynical woman, which is brought to life by a trio of talented vocalists. Allen Tate’s rich smoky voice is a joy to listen too, although his staggering similarity to Matt Berninger from The National is confusing. Tate is particularly suited to the warm horns, and gentle piano. Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe deliver the part of the woman, and are angelic and haunting. They meander through the album, with varying degrees of sultriness and charm.

This is not an album to listen to if you’re enduring the post-break up stage of a relationship, especially in conjunction with the consumption of gin. Allen’s somber, “No I can’t fall asleep in your arms” from “Casanova” will almost certainly leave you blubbering. However, this is an album to listen to again and again, and I really mean the whole album. It is complex. There are layers of detail which do not repeat themselves on San Fermin, but the subtitles are not overly academic and it’s an easy listen.

The detail of the production, the craftsmanship of the lyrics and the seamless transition of the music are inspiring. However, when one commits to listening to an album from end-to-end as prescribed there’s a need for real emotion, not jazz hands, and as much as tracks like “Crueler Kind” impress, San Fermin do dangerously flirt with becoming a bit too Chicago. Maybe we’re missing the point, perhaps this is an album for those who consider Moulin Rouge to be in their top ten films. However, they don’t usually float our preverbal.

Imagine the dark thoughts of Belle & Sebastian, the uplifting choir like choruses of The Polyphonic Spree with the heavy heart of Schumann’s piano, and you’re coming close to the sound of San Fermin. Alternatively purchase their album to have an even clearer idea.

Release: 17th September 2013, Downtown Records

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