San Fermin The Cormorant I

San Fermin The Cormorant I
8
One of the decade's most exciting orchestral pop groups, San Fermin, has another grand statement to deliver with The Cormorant I, the first of a planned two-part album. Band leader and principal composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone again demonstrates his sublime knack for keying into the molten undercurrent of intimate examinations of the self in his songwriting. There is pressure building beneath the tenderness of these reflective pieces, and when it bursts, it is glorious.
 
Musically, there aren't many specific innovations to the San Fermin sound, developed over four extremely consistent albums, on The Cormorant I, but it is perhaps the band's most focused to date and has the greatest potential for wide impact, due to its lean efficiency and consummate professionalism. That's not to say the music isn't huge when it wants to be. The title track sounds like it could've easily fit on Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise at its most orchestrally opulent. With its habit of switching between massive, prog-tinged orchestral rock and quiet sophisticated, story-focused folk, that seminal album is the most apt comparison point for this masterful work.
 
The strength and adaptability of Ludgwig-Leone's authorial voice is on display here more than ever. With the loss of vocalist Charlene Kay, the songwriter bounces a collection of new female voices off of the irreplaceable baritone of Allen Tate. Newer band members Claire Wellin and Karlie Bruce are phenomenal, but it's guest vocalist Samia that steals the show on single, "The Hunger," which serves as the album's centerpiece.
 
At just eight songs, none of which are especially long, the album is over far too fast, but hopefully our appetite for more will be sated when Part II drops. (Sony)