San Fermin’s self-titled debut album is a surprising bounty of sounds as varied as anything available in the musical market today. Though the main man behind the album’s beautiful, intriguing, and wonderfully over-the-top compositions is Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the use of multiple lead vocalists wisely increases the depth of San Fermin’s catalog. A 17-track release, the San Fermin album covers an impressive range of variations on orchestral pop musical styles connected by a delightfully eccentric aesthetic and a common storyline.
It’s extremely difficult to isolate any of these 17 tightly knit songs, each one serving as a crucial scene in the development of San Fermin’s theatrical composition. The album is an interplay between a male and female character involved in an “almost-romance” as described by their composer. Developed over the course of the album, this relationship allows listeners to experience the highs, lows, insecurities, melodramas, and tensions of love in an originally cinematic musical form.
But if we must evaluate the album’s tracks individually, there are certain songs that stand out for their emotive power, objective beauty, and pure originality. “Crueler Kind” is an easy favorite, the second track on the album and the first to feature female lead vocals. The song unassumingly opens with a Lorde-like, rhythm-fueled vocal riff, quickly blooming into a joyous but moving opera of female vocals. “Casanova” comes as a mournful strings-driven turn, with vocals as deep and brooding as any song by The National. Apart from the undeniable similarity between lead male vocalist Allen Tate’s voice and that of The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger, justifiable comparisons between the two bands could also be attributed to the fact that Ludwig-Leone worked on arrangements for the latter in the past. But The National isn’t the only band to have influenced San Fermin’s efforts (or maybe, like me, you’d rather consider that The National was influenced by San Fermin first through Ludwig-Leone’s prior work with the band). I couldn’t help but find hints of Sufjan Stevens as well, another performer with prior ties to Ludwig-Leone. Reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s best efforts, the penultimate track “Daedalus (What We Have)” is introduced by a few stark notes from the horns and isolated vocals from Tate but grows into an ambitious cacophony of percussive sounds, a flourishing chorus of female back up vocalists, and whimsically layered instrumentation.
Even with the most cursory listen to just a smattering of tracks from San Fermin, it is explicitly clear so many bastions of high musical taste consider this debut album to be one of last year’s most remarkable releases.