San Fermin's third studio album, Belong, marks a shift in songwriting perspective for bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone. "In the past I'd usually write through characters from books or movies, as a way to try to distance myself from what I was writing about," says the Brooklyn-based artist. "As I've become more confident as a songwriter, I decided that I could drop some of the artifice and write something more direct." In bringing a more personal slant to his music, Ludwig-Leone found himself confronting such matters as disconnection, displacement, and – perhaps most significantly – everyday anxiety.
Produced by Ludwig-Leone and brought to life by his fellow performers – lead vocalists Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate, trumpet player John Brandon, saxophonist Stephen Chen, violinist Rebekah Durham, drummer Michael Hanf, and guitarists Tyler McDiarmid and Aki Ishiguro – Belong unfolds in warm, intoxicating textures that both contrast and intensify that sense of unrest. The album's hypnotic sound is embodied in "No Promises," a shimmering pop opus about the fear of disappointing those who've placed their trust in you. On the quietly frenetic "Bride," San Fermin conveys a fear of commitment by juxtaposing the idyllic imagery of wedding flowers with a detailed account of suffering a panic attack. And with "Dead" (a song about "not wanting anybody to depend on you," according to Ludwig-Leone), the band telegraphs defiance in a gorgeously jagged arrangement built on clattering rhythms and Kaye's penetrating vocal performance.
Elsewhere on Belong, San Fermin explores the intersection of desire and danger (on the subtly sinister "August") and paints a tender portrait of self-destruction (on "Perfume," a sweeping and cinematic track laced with piercing lyrics). On the brightly charged and bravely candid "Better Company," meanwhile, Tate's intimate vocals meet with stomping beats and furious strings. One of the album's most powerful tracks, the slow-building "Belong" finds Tate and Kaye trading off verses to conjure up moments of gentle devastation. Throughout Belong, San Fermin brings both elegance and raw passion to their performance, an achievement that Ludwig-Leone attributes to the band's increasingly potent chemistry.