Let's talk about San Fermin's sick new song "Parasites"
San Fermin | Photo by Denny Renshaw

When San Fermin‘s eponymous debut record came out in 2013, there was no shortage of comparisons to The National and/or Sufjan Stevens. The album had elegant, accessible arrangements and infectious hooks (“Sonsick”), and singer Alan Tate’s voice skews undeniably Matt Berninger (“Methuselah”). Tate still definintely rocks that baritone, but holy cow the band’s sound has expanded and evolved on its latest single.

Premiered yesterday via NPR Music, “Parasites” shows songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone – who, as it’s often noted, is a Yale-educated composer – folding some dissonance and 20th century modernism into his pop songs. At first, we just hear a delicate intro to a buoyant bassline and kick-snare-beat. But that steers in an unsurprising direction with key change (at least I think I’m hearing a key change – perhaps it’s a trick of the ear), an acoustic guitar and fervent saxophone. By the minute and a half point, the song had shifted again to incorporate bluegrass fiddle for a few bars and then layer in clipped synthesizers for an evocative underbelly.

All this probably makes it sound incredibly unfocused and inaccessible, but the core of “Parasites” holds together across its four minutes and change, making it one of the coolest weirdest pop songs I’ve heard in a while. NPR’s Stephen Thompson posits that the sound shift from the more folk-oriented debut came from San Fermin’s evolution from a writing / recording project to an active live band.

By the time [the self-titled album[ came out, Ludwig-Leone had already written a sequel in a similar spirit.

But then San Fermin started touring, which naturally brought Ludwig-Leone out into the world — to workshop his sound in a live setting, to experience life on the road as part of an eight-piece band, and to encounter people and ideas that would have escaped him if he’d stayed home. So he rewrote the album’s songs, and the result is Jackrabbit, which promises to have a looser and less hermetically sealed quality. “I was looking for a sound that was a little darker,” Ludwig-Leone writes via email, “and maybe a little more manic.”

San Fermin’s Jackrabbit will be released on Downtown Records on April 21st, and the band – on tour this winter – comes to Arden Gild Hall in Delaware on January 31st. Get tickets and more information on the show at the XPN Concert Calendar, and listen to “Parasites” below.

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