A smoother, poppier version of “Stillness is the Move” by the Dirty Projectors, “Sonsick” succeeds both because of and in spite of its debt to the earlier song. The similarities are enough to be disconcerting, and yet San Fermin mastermind Ellis Ludwig-Leone seems less interested than Dave Longstreth in being difficult. I consider this a good thing. I liked “Stillness is the Move” quite a lot, but noted at the time that it was one of the more approachable things Dirty Projectors had recorded, and even so was still pretty thorny. “Sonsick” is the work of someone who doesn’t shy from accessibility.
Maybe it’s because Ludwig-Leone is a full-fledged contemporary classical composer as well that he approaches pop for what it is, or can be: a chance to make music people can listen to without an advanced degree. Not that “Sonsick” isn’t its own kind of interesting. (Take note, hipsters of all persuasions: music can be rich and approachable at the same time!) I’m entirely enjoying the more fluent melodic choices Ludwig-Leone makes in the verse than did Longstreth, and find the appearance of an honest-to-goodness sing-along chorus all but intoxicating. Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, who sing together in the duo Lucius, add energy at once lovely and intense to a story that feels elusive but emotional, not purposefully nonsensical (as was “Stillness”). And do yourself a favor and keep your ears on the arrangement. Ludwig-Leone’s use of horns is novel if not unique in a pop setting; they sneak in via sustained background notes, and are used throughout in a flowing, textural way rather than in “horn chart” flares and bursts. Woodwinds glide in too as some point, creating the feel of a pocket orchestra by the end of the piece.
Officially, San Fermin is a “band” of three singers and one composer; the music on the album is all performed by hired guests. The third singer is Allen Tate, Ludwig-Leone’s friend and long-time collaborator; they met at 16 in rock’n’roll camp and were previously performed as a duo called Gets the Girl. Ludwig-Leone, 23, studied composition at Yale and has worked as an assistant to composer Nico Muhly. “Sonsick” is a song from the group’s self-titled debut album, to be self-released next month. Judging from the imposing bull adorning the album cover, I’m guessing that the band took its name from Pamplona’s famous annual festival. MP3 via Spinner.