By Kieran Graulich
For over a year, “Jackrabbit,” the sophomore album by baroque pop band San Fermin, existed as the skeleton of an album on a composer’s computer. Despite a small cast of one composer and seven musicians, San Fermin is larger than life. Led by composer and pianist Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the band capture a lush hybrid of baroque pop and modern pop in their sound, with many of their songs blurring the lines between the two genres, a la Kendrick Lamar, who blended jazz and hip hop on his recent effort “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
“Jackrabbit” is helmed by lead vocalists Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate. The narrative these two lead, much like that of San Fermin’s first album, is an intricate and harrowing interchange of multiple characters, facets of personality, moods, and situations. Tate and Kaye show two completely different sides of San Fermin. With some exceptions, Kaye is often joyful and energetic while Tate is more subtle, almost as if he is talking more to himself than to the audience. Tate’s brooding presence and contemplative delivery is comparable to Nick Cave and Stephin Merrit in its subtlety.
As subdued as Tate may be, the instrumentation never fails to be lively and absolutely monstrous. The chameleonic instrumentation often nods to the form of popular modern artists from several genres. “Philosopher” could have easily been performed by Lana Del Rey, while “Woman in Red” sounds like a cut from “Suburbs”-era Arcade Fire; the title track sounds like it could easily fit into any number of EDM Calvin Harris compilations. However, San Fermin’s mimicry does not hold them back. Their songwriting and energy often make their music seem fresh and exciting. This may not exactly hold for songs like the drabber “Astronaut” or any number of the aimless interlude tracks, which seem to float in between genuine baroque pieces and underdeveloped pop songs.
There are certainly misses in songwriting and form, particularly on the latter third of the album, which is bogged down by interlude tracks and the album’s least captivating songs, such as the barely memorable “Halcyon Days” or “Two Scenes.” They begin beautifully but lose momentum not long after they begin to take off.
Despite some missteps, San Fermin manages to put out, for the most part, a wonderfully lush and exciting album. Perhaps not every song is as beautiful as “Billy Bibbit” or the title track, but “Jackrabbit” as a package is an indispensable listen. When done correctly, the story, characters, instrumentation, and energy are so beautifully executed that they demand to be heard. Although emotionally and musically packed, “Jackrabbit” is an album that demands you devote your attention and energy to it, beckoning you to get lost in its intricate world.
Kieran Graulich is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org