3 out of 5 | The Cormorant I & II | (Sony Music Masterworks)
“Running, running from the future / Everyone knows what you’re doing / Think of all the things you’ll miss,” Ellis Ludwig-Leone observes with a heavy heart. The multi-instrumentalist and songwriter feels life crashing in on him, and he weaves his musings together with metronomic motions and instrumentation that never let go. “Westfjords” is an essential thematic piece to San Fermin’s double-decker album, The Cormorant I & II, on which the musical collective tick through various stages of life.
By definition, the cormorant is a species of dark seabirds and often symbolic of indulgence, luck, and even nobility in some cultures. Here, the creature embodies human existence, as we travel from birth to promising youthfulness to middle age to waning golden years. Across 16 songs, most of which were written in Ísafjörður, Iceland, Ludwig-Leone needles piercing, insightful lyrics through the connective tissues by which we’re all bound, and the melancholy hangs as dried fruit, even when production shimmers in the sunlight.
Ludwig-Leone’s collaborators include Allen Tate (vocals), Claire Wellin (vocals, violin), John Brandon (trumpet), Stephen Chen (saxophone), Michael Hanf (percussion), Tyler McDiarmid (guitar), Aki Ishiguro (guitar), Lavinia Meijer (harp), and the Attacca Quartet.
The Cormorant I was released last fall, and the second half further focuses the story into a clearer, more poignant, and timely portrait. “Little Star” cranks through the weary cycle of chasing a future self, blindingly present in today’s reflection but forever intangible. The days wax longer and shadows more hollowed. With “Waterworld,” unspoken emotional turmoil boils over through a breathtaking framework of a lullaby lean. “Happy couple, happy home / When we found you all alone crying in the kitchen / The quiet spells and sudden moods / Sometimes we were scared of you / We didn’t know the difference.”
Then, Ludwig-Leone unzips what goes unseen, unheard, unprotected beneath the surface. “There’s an underwater place / Where we cannot see your face / And you won’t let anybody near you / In an underwater world, you are not the only girl / Trying to hold your breath until they love you…”
Adulthood, especially in the modern era, is a cat-and-mouse game none of us can win 一 and we shouldn’t want to. On “Freedom (Yeah Yeah!),” a rhythmic-wound creed, San Fermin cast their troubles and angst aside as fishermen tossing back their catch at the end of a long haul, opting to let life simply be for another day. “Live it up / It’s a game / This is what you became / There’s freedom in it,” clangs as a carpe diem update.
San Fermin have made a name for their adventurous melding of production styles and genres, and the ambitious release may not quite be as groundbreaking as their previous work. However, The Cormorant I & II is a healing release. Even with the closer “Tunnel Mt.,” an 87-second instrumental featuring only ghostly whispers, mimicking souls leaving sunken carcasses behind, the record’s scope soothes the body. It reminds us to seize every moment while we have it and reassures that whatever comes next is just as exciting.
Photo Credit: Denny Renshaw