The debut album from San Fermin is a schizophrenic one, as you’d expect a dialogue between a depressed older man and cynical girl to be; written by one Yale graduate but performed by 22 musicians; inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises and named after the Running of The Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain, but dreamt up and recorded in the rocky mountains of Alberta, Canada. ‘San Fermin’ is not without its bookish, grandiose concepts, nor is its creator, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, without the prodigal skills to pull off a project as ambitious as this.

The son of visual artists, Ludwig-Leone studied music composition at the Ivy League Yale, where, on his graduating last year, he became assistant to contemporary classical music composer Nico Muhly, composed his first ballet for New York’s BalletCollective and co-arranged an opera inspired by Hurricane Sandy with Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. He’s 22.

For this 17-track chamber pop saga, Ludwig-Leone has surrounded himself with a deft bunch of neo classical horn and string players who share his passion for creating “concert music that kids would actually want to come and see”, yet ‘San Fermin’ is too much of a whole to be the work of a committee – rather, Ludwig-Leone is the Writer/Director heading a nimble crew and cast that understand and believe in his vision.

Singers Allen Tate (a deep, burring kind of fellow who always sounds sullen) and Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of New York band Lucius give voice to the two sparing protagonists, initially in a tit-for-tat fashion, Tate’s despondent baritone reminiscent of Beirut’s rich, flesh-and-blood croon on dejected ballads ‘Renaissance!’ and ‘Casanova’, interspersed with ‘Crueler Kind’ and ‘Sonsick’, which Laessig and Wolfe chirrup a la Dirty Projectors’ Olga Bell and Amber Coffman. Their harmonic voices entwine with the rising brass, but the drums are doing something else – they’re completely contemporary: the break beats of 2013 RnB. Ludwig-Leone does want the kids to come and see this, after all, and ‘Sonsick’ especially is worth the gate alone. If ‘San Fermin’ was to end there it wouldn’t be the year’s biggest crime, and there is certainly an argument to be heard for it being a production that has fallen pray to its director’s stubborn final cut. (55 minutes for a debut album that is at times so oppressively world-weary is a tall ask). Yet Tate’s sad man makes for compulsive, introspective listening, Laessig and Wolfe’s girl for playfully scornful resentment and Ludwig-Leone’s audacious vision something of a one off.


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