It is a rare moment where a band presents themselves as being an ensemble performing expansive chamber-pop, yet, back with their third LP of such music, San Fermin return with Belong. Primarily a construct by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who has previously composed music for a chamber group, San Fermin contains an array of talented musicians, and whilst on paper the idea for classically trained musicians performing ‘pop’ music sounds a bit vexing, on record and in execution the idea really comes alive. Comprising two vocalists (Allen Tate & Charlene Kaye-the former with his rich baritone the latter providing something more ethereal), the record contains the sounds of violins, saxophones, trumpets, synths and guitars, just to name but a fraction. The record really is a cacophony of sound.
‘Open’, the first track on the record, sets the stall out from the beginning. Built on layers, Kaye’s vocals swirl over an echo of ‘ahhhh’s, which builds to include the sound of a metronome, before breaking down with a frenzy of violins. It may not be jazz music, but the continual construction and deconstruction of sound is very much in the spirit of the movement, and is something reflected throughout Belong.
The standout moment on Belong is ‘No Promises’, again constructed on the basis of a vocal loop. At its heart, ‘No Promises’ is Ludwig-Leone’s paean to his bandmates, Kaye singing the words ‘I will promise you /If you follow me/I won’t let you down’ as the chorus refrain, before breaking down to include the things that the band has done so far; ‘Pack your bags/leave your home/drive all night/do it for me/waste your youth/count your years/do it for me’. This is perhaps the most accessible track on Belong, and is a cathartic explosion of joy. These are all the thoughts that people have; is the destination worth the constant trips from home, from loved ones. ‘No Promises’ is Ludwig-Leone’s way of proving to this bandmates that despite the anxieties, the trip is more than worth the sacrifice.
Other tracks explore the use of quieter orchestration. ‘Perfume’ is the work of a synth and drum machine, whereas ‘Happiness will Ruin this Place’ is contemplative, accompanied by the strings of an electric guitar, before morphing into a delicate foot-stomping. At times like this, the instrumentation is given the air to breath and provides a welcome break between the denser soundscapes. Belong is San Fermin’s third record, and in the words of Ludwig-Leone, if you follow them, they won’t let you down.