San Fermin’s self-titled album was hands-down one of my favourite albums of 2013. Written in a kind of operatic-style, the group’s front man and pianist Ellis Ludwig-Leone of Brooklyn composed the album while up in a (no doubt cabin-like) studio on the border between Alberta and British Columbia. As he composed the album without specific instrumentalists or vocalists in mind, Ludwig-Leone had the opportunity to capture his vision and find those who fit the parts he had in mind. The band is comprised of eight members – 2 vocalists, a violinist/back-up vocalist, guitar, drums, keyboard, trumpet and baritone sax. The lead male vocalist has a voice remarkably similar to Bill Callahan’s; however at times, he sings in his falsetto and is equally as impressive. The lead female vocalist has just as impressive of a range and is often beautifully complimented by the female back-up vocalist, on songs such as (my favourite) Oh, Darling.
The album has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard, but is somewhat reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens and Dirty Projectors. Unlike most other albums released nowadays, San Fermin is one you really want to listen to non-stop from start to finish. From start to finish, the album tells some sort of musical story that includes themes of love, pain and happiness. The story is told through Ludwig-Leone’s clever lyricism, and, in particular, through dramatic changes in musical elements such as dynamics, instrumentation and key. Throughout the album, are included several beautifully composed and extremely effective musical interludes such as Lament for V.G., At Sea, and In the Morning, that flawlessly transition one song to the next. I, personally, am very fond of albums including musical interludes. The style seems to be becoming more and more popular and has been featured on albums such as Hooded Fang’s Tosta Mista.
The first song that caught my attention off of the album, and actually the first song that I heard off of it was Oh, Darling. The song starts off with strings playing tremolo from the previous song, and in comes in the most hauntingly beautiful vocals sung by the band’s lead female vocalist, Rae Cassidy. The strings cut out and now joins in a back-up vocalist singing perfectly harmonized “Oohs”. The lyrics are simple and easily understood, but definitely speak to and catch the listener’s attention – lyrics like “Oh Darling, Fighting’s so miserable A lover’s lie”. Within the first few seconds of hearing the song, I thought it was so strikingly beautiful, and so striking in general that I didn’t think this level of intrigue could be surpassed; however, I was proven wrong. The second verse of the song is sung by the male singer of the band, Allen Tate, who’s rich, deep voice contrast’s Cassidy’s angelic voice like no other could. The lyrics of the second verse, along with the new mood of the song, seem to provide a rebuttal to the lyrics previously sung by Cassidy, and provide another perspective on some sort of relationship the two are referencing. The story and dialogue escalates, and everything comes together when the Cassidy is joined by a harmony, and the two join into Tate’s verse. No matter how many times I’ve listened to the song, as cheesy as it is, I find it hard not to feel some seriously strong emotions. Goose bumps almost always arise. Everything about Oh, Darling is so ridiculously beautiful (and is somehow even more powerful when sung in a New York church which can be found here à https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8l0dGurrrg).
The next big track for me off of the album is Sonsick. It is completely different than Oh, Darling. The song start’s off, much like most of Dirty Projector’s album Swing Lo Magellan, solely with female vocals, and a rhythm section. Very simple, and very intriguing. The song quickly builds as the rest of the band jumps in. The most important aspect of Sonsick, is that it boasts possibly the catchiest chorus ever. Upon showing some of my housemates the song, it was all I heard for the next week – either the song itself or someone attempting to sing it. The chorus, however, is impossible to sing, as it is sung in a range hard to reach by no doubt most sopranos (making it all the more impressive). It also contains a driving beat that carries the song forward and seriously pumps you up. In addition to this, the horns miraculously add a whole other dimension of epic. This, along with the amazing work of the producer, Sonsick’s sound becomes so amazingly full and dynamic.
I had the pleasure of seeing San Fermin perform their sold out show at the Garrison in Toronto this past February. One of the most remarkable things about the band and the album is that it sounds the same live as it does on the album (in a good way). All of the instruments that appear on the album appear live on stage and perform with the same amount of skill and sound just as, if not even more incredible. Another remarkable thing about the show was that it wasn’t solely full of teenagers and young adults. There was a very wide range of ages in the audience – everyone from university students, to 30-something year olds, to 50 or 60 year olds. This speaks to the universality of the album, and its ability to intrigue all sorts of listeners. If you haven’t already checked out San Fermin’s debut self-titled album, I strongly suggest you do so.