Much of San Fermin’s The Cormorant takes place in the ordinary yet enchanted spaces of childhood: birthday parties and backseats of cars, playgrounds and fields and idyllic bodies of water. True to the album’s storybook grandeur, those spaces are inhabited by creatures at turns make-believe and improbably earthly, including the ominous being of the title: a snakelike seabird that bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone frequently encountered while on a month-long writing trip in Ísafjörður, Iceland. With its gentle intertwining of the real and the mythic, The Cormorant subtly invites a certain truth-bending in the listener’s own mind—a form of willful delusion described by Ludwig-Leone as “creating fictions from your life as a way to deal with a difficult reality.”
The fourth full-length from San Fermin, The Cormorant arrives as the follow-up to Belong—a 2017 release praised by The New Yorker for “often sound[ing] like a wall of flowers blooming at once.” After writing most of The Cormorant in Ísafjörður, Ludwig-Leone returned to Brooklyn and sculpted the album’s opulent orchestral pop with the help of his bandmates: vocalist Allen Tate, vocalist/violinist Claire Wellin, trumpet player John Brandon, saxophonist Stephen Chen, percussionist Michael Hanf, and guitarists Tyler McDiarmid and Aki Ishiguro. In that process, San Fermin dreamed up an album of kinetic and spellbinding movement, an element informed by Ludwig-Leone’s recent work in creating an opera-ballet with Swamplandia! author Karen Russell.