Nashville - Brooklyn-based San Fermin have just released Jackrabbit, their sophomore album (on Downtown Records) that follows their 2013 self-titled debut. Two years after San Fermin, the band has moved into a more grounded sound, though it’s just as spontaneous and investigational as their very first release. However, there’s an earthiness to Jackrabbit that doesn’t exist within the band’s debut, which is far more atmospheric and soars to a more experimental realm. Differences aside and years in the making, San Fermin have continued to make a name for themselves, however uniquely. (Ed., Best New Bands honored them in 2014 as our Newbie Award winner for Best New Band.)
Characterized by punchy percussion, blooming vocals and bursting horns all framed by thoughtful lyrics, the eight-piece arrangement is headed by the young but thoroughly accomplished Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Foremost a composer, Ludwig-Leone has furnished an ambitious and successful outfit in San Fermin, and Jackrabbit aims to give each band member—Allen Tate, Charlene Kaye, Rebekah Durham, John Brandon, Stephen Chen, Tyler McDiarmid, and Michael Hanf—a significant chunk of focus. And it’s this emphasis on collaboration that makes Jackrabbit so incredibly enjoyable, and especially artistic.
While there’s so much going on at once in San Fermin’s music, it’s a controlled, listenable chaos that moves in and out of rhythm and disorder. Heavily but equally instrumental, the album isn’t carried by one or a couple of elements in particular—everything and everyone is prominently featured on this album. Sometimes, it’s the drums that steal the spotlight, and in other moments it’s Kaye’s exquisite high notes that provide just enough tension against Tate’s deeper vocals that turns the album into a conversation, or a story.
“Emily” emerges as one of the album’s songs that features the best of all the band’s many working parts. The beat is consistent and prominent, the vocals play on that duality between high and low, and each instrument is distinct but comes together to form a track that is entirely elevated. Though the lyrics tell a story and are nevertheless an important component, they aren’t the most important part, or even the most central piece, of “Emily.” Everything stands out here—and it’s beautiful, complicated, and improvisational.
Conversely, “Astronaut” is spare, dreamy, and subtle. Here, Tate’s voice takes the lead as the instrumentals slowly build up only to recede into an understated progression. Nothing here really jumps out, and nothing in “Astronaut” is quite as punctuated as the album’s other 14 tracks. In this song, however, Kaye’s impossibly high notes towards the end slowly lead the way not into a climax (which would be the predictable option), but into a cliffhanger. It was at this point that I really began to feel something, as there’s an intensely emotional—not just artistic—quality at play.
San Fermin has showed us—for the second time—that there’s beauty to be found in experimental and tentative places. Unafraid of risk, Ludwig-Leone has formed something wholly inspired and mysterious within his band, and they occupy a place all their own. In the genre’s most literal definition, Jackrabbit is indie pop—but these compositions, arrangements, sounds, and words come together into something that’s much more transcendent. There’s really no proper label for it, no simple brand, and that’s what makes this album a triumph. With so much potential, and so much energy poured into pure imagination, San Fermin’s next endeavor will most likely reach an even more exciting, more daring place than before.
San Fermin have tour dates planned in Europe in order to promote this latest album. They begin a North American tour on May 7. As we wrote last fall in a live review, “in-person, San Fermin soars to extraordinarily explosive peaks.”
To learn more about San Fermin and to check out their tour schedule, go to their Facebook page.
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