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San Fermin, Son Lux prove why they should be more popular

San-Fermin

By Mike Frash //

San Fermin and Son Lux //
The Chapel — San Francisco
March 4th, 2014 //

The Chapel in San Francisco featured two groups Tuesday that need your immediate attention. Both Son Lux & San Fermin released impressive, addictive albums in 2013, records that went largely under the radar. Both groups procure the highs and lows of sound, contrasting orchestrated crescendos with jarring silent breaks, so it makes sense they are touring together. Son Lux proved why they are one of the most exciting live acts on the club-level circuit in SF, while San Fermin showed how a massive theater tour is likely in their near future.

Ryan Lott from Son Lux is a master curator of dynamic sound, using a ghostly combination of soft, wondrous melody and edgy electronic elements to set an eerie tone. Glitchy beats make the quickest impact, but mystical vocal backing that blends with Lott’s stoic yet impassioned voice soon become a soothing center point. It’s no surprise Lorde is offering guest vocals on Son Lux’s breathtaking “Easy” for the group’s Alternate Worlds EP coming out May 27th. Lott’s production thrives on unexpected volume-drops that contrast moments of top-decibel volume.

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“Easy” was a song that expanded and opened up when performed live at the Chapel, becoming a bit exploratory and loud before coming back to its simple and super effective refrain. In comparison to the flow of Son Lux’s criminally overlooked Lanterns from last year, the group’s show steers away from focusing on vocal harmonies to hone on aural dynamics through digital looping and live instrumentation. Songs build up to catchy, head-bobbing plateaus while stop-starting along the way, only for the rug to be pulled for complete silence momentarily. This song structure and effect makes it feel like time stretches, elongating the musical experience in a hyper-pleasurable way.

Ryan Lott leads through expressive body movements, almost as is if he’s directing his own mini-symphony. For example, he feigning the shedding of skin in “Alternate World” to the literal lyrics and he later dropped an “OK” hand sign at a pivotal sound break. Lott uses minimal computer backing as a backbone — he sources notes & effects from his keyboard, appropriately angled toward the audience. Two-mic singing is employed (one for echo effect) and his computer is inverted at a forty-five degree angle on a sheet music stand. Impressive live drum and bass playing fill out the rest of Son Lux’s magnificent makeup. It all adds up to musical output that Ryan Lott and Son Lux can claim as truly unique — these guys should be more popular.

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By the time Son Lux ended, folks edged in and held fort for the theatrical wonder that is San Fermin. Composer & songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone wrote all of San Fermin’s self-titled first record right out of college, in a period of transition, and it functions around a male and female character in dialogue, performed by Allen Tate and Rae Cassidy. Tate’s baritone voice wallows sweetly like Matt Berninger from the National, while Cassidy projects in the vein of Gwen Stefani. On many songs each lead singer gets their own spotlight, but when then the two join forces, the eight piece outfit soars even higher.

The songwriting is about being young — longing, wondering and celebrating love, life and death, ya know, all the important-yet scary things. Ludwig-Leone was the one that addressed the crowd and introducing the players throughout, but San Fermin’s rich sound and growing success is a product fully dependent on each individual part, including digitized break beats, string and horn accompaniment.

They played their only record in full, save for a sprinkling of new songs (including the notable “Parasite”) while cutting transitional tracks. The album is structured in back and forth fashion between the lead male and female characters, putting the spotlight on Tate and Cassidy throughout. Due to this structure, along with operatic choral harmonies, the live show feels like a performance art piece at times, with costumes and acting missing. But sonically, San Fermin is reminiscent of the best emotive parts of Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens, instilling all sorts of armhair-on-end feels.

“Casanova”, “Bar” and “Daedalus (What We Have)”, such moving and ambitious songs, were immaculately performed Tuesday. In fact there were no low moments. Band members moved around the crowded stage in awe, owning their space, connecting with the crowd, killing every moment. San Fermin is locked in with purpose — see them live now before they move up to a massive theater tour.

March 5, 2014: Visalia, CA – The Cellar Door*
March 7, 2014: Los Angeles, CA – The Museum of Natural History*
March 8, 2014: La Jolla, CA – The Loft @ UCSD*
March 18, 2014: New Orleans, LA – Gasa Gasa
March 19, 2014: Tallahassee, FL – Club Downunder at FSU
March 21, 2014: Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
March 22, 2014: Baltimore, MD – Metro Gallery
*With Son Lux

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