San Fermín is both the name of the famed annual festival in Pamplona and a Brooklyn-based baroque pop band that has been active for about half a decade. What both have in common is a sense of being over-the-top. The former has the running of the bulls; the latter splatters bullish, brash brass all over its sound on Jackrabbit.
The vocalists may be Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye, but it is keyboardist and frontman Ellis Ludwig-Leone who wrote the whole thing himself mid-tour and co-produced this second full-length.
The artsy, mystifying opener The Woods initially breezes through like wind through the song’s ‘trees twigs and leaves’ under Tate’s lower register, low gritty guitars and macabre piano. Then, jarringly thunderous trumpets, saxophones and hard-edged synths sweep subtlety out the door. By contrast, Kaye’s double-tracked yet feathery light and clear vocals flitter through effortlessly through flickering keyboard hits, suspense-laden drum stomps and brass more contained to the background on the flowing Ladies Mary.
As if the dramatic musical arrangements weren’t enough, there is a strong presence of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ on the album. The lighter, Emily might be the album’s most conventional track, as Tate soulfully channels Leonard Cohen and Kaye soothingly hums ‘weeee oooh weee oooh’ over lyrics including ‘down down the rabbit hole’. The summery title track sounds like a frolicking version of Haim’s Fallen, making listeners believe they’re really running like Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit.
The acoustic Astronaut (featuring Kaye’s impossibly high, transcendent screams) and its haunting, operatic flip-side Two Scenes (whose ending erupts in a furious vocal round battle between Tate and Kaye) are two of the album’s complementary, waltzier and romantic moments.
In between instrumentals including the unapologetic Ecstatic Thoughts (which sounds like a bunch of light bulb moments going off at once) and the tender but disturbingly discordant Halcyon Days, are a quirky single and a track that should be a single. Parasites is an unnerving duet with clanky guitar riffs, exuberant violins, eccentric brass and odd vocal performances. Woman in Red throbs seductively under its striptease-worthy synth bass, lyrics that scare and tease (‘when you go to sleep, don’t close your eyes’), a bouncy, almost-New-Wave rhythm, and Tate’s appropriately deep voice that illustrate a wondrous fantasy for the audience. It isalso where Tate reaches the top of his range as if in ecstasy, before Kaye’s one-woman choir and drawn-out strings conclude this highlight.
Following a wild cacophony of brass and drums that is its intro, Billy Bibbit ornately closes the album with its plaintive strings and catchy melody that carries a nice rhythm.
Jackrabbit is strange, bombastic but mostly well-written and performed. Yes, the brass and drums can be overwhelming for an everyday listen, but is enough of an adventure to take listeners elsewhere.