San Fermin's Ellis Ludwig-Leone: Five Essential Albums

by Kara Manning
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(photo: Kyle Dean Reinford/courtesy of the artist)

It has been a stellar year for Brooklyn-based composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone and his chamber pop collective, San Fermin. The band, bringing Ludwig-Leone's chamber pop songs to buoyant life, released its self-titled debut in September to very positive reviews and a rapidly-growing fanbase, both Stateside and abroad.

Barely a year since San Fermin played its first show at Pianos (and just a few months after the band's session for FUV Live), Ludwig-Leone and his bandmates have booked their biggest New York headlining gig to date, presented by FUV, on Thursday, December 12, at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The show is sold out, but San Fermin will tour North America this winter, returning to New York for a night at Bowery Ballroom on February 7.

Given Ellis Ludwig-Leone's many influences, veering from classical to experimental pop to rock, FUV asked him if he'd share his Five Essential Albums with us ... and why each selection means so much to him.

Ellis Ludwig-Leone's Five Essential Albums:

Paul Simon, Graceland
Such an ambitious record, with such a wide range of sounds, but Paul Simon is so good at combining it all and making it sound easy. That intro to "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes" still amazes me -- how is it that his vocal line sounds like the most natural thing in the world over top of Ladysmith Black Mambazo? The album has such a great flow to it, the quality of each sound is so considered, and the lyrics are at once very specific and yet completely universal.

Sufjan Stevens, Come On Feel The Illinoise!
Have you ever read the lyrics to "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland Illinois"? And against that unmetered piano line in 10ths, oh man, it gives me shivers even to think about it. Again, it's a full record, like Graceland, that tackles big issues through intensely personal and sometimes very small images -- a wasp on the arm, a cardinal at the window. And the arrangements are perfect; grandiose but slightly ironic, with great gulping fanfares, powerful Steve Reich-y pulses, and funny tooting recorder choirs.

The Beatles, Abbey Road
This is the first record I ever really listened to front-to-back, and it hasn't lost any magic since I was four or five. I love the way things start to smush together towards the second half of the album, with related themes and manic shifts halfway through songs. When you think about how popular they were, and yet how willing they were to push musical boundaries like that, it's even more amazing.  

The National, Alligator
"I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders" -- what an incredible image to sum up so much emotion. When The National are at their best, their lyrics are poignant and melancholy, and delivered in this deadpan way so that the melodies, which are almost always great, gradually emerge over time, so you'll be listening for like the fifth time and suddenly it's "oh, wow, that's a really catchy line." Unlike most pop songs, where the catchiness comes first, The National only reward you with it after you've done the work, which is something I really love about them.

Nico Muhly, Mothertongue
The four "Mothertongue" tracks use this awesome aleatoric vocal writing where there's tons of voices all singing at different tempi at once. It's somehow overwhelmingly beautiful and stressful at the same time, like someone has filmed every moment of your life and played it back to you on one million times speed. And then the three "The Only Tune" tracks, featuring Sam Amidon, are a beautiful and terrifying arrangement of an old murder ballad. They refurbish and harness the harshness inherent in the lyrics, which can sometimes be lost in the more finger-picked, banjoey renditions.

San Fermin Tour Dates:

12/12/13: Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg (sold out)
12/13/13: Philadelphia, PA - WXPN Free At Noon @ World Café Live (12 PM ET)
12/13/13: N. Bethesda, MD - The Mansion at Strathmore
1/16/14: Grand Rapids, MI - WYCE Live at Wealthy Theatre
1/17/14: Madison, WI - FRZN Fest @ High Noon Saloon
1/18/14: Chicago, IL - Tomorrow Never Knows Festival @ Schubas Tavern
1/19/14: Milwaukee, WI - Turner Ballroom
2/6/14: New Haven, CT - Cafe Nine
2/7/14: New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom #
2/8/14: Washington, DC - Rock & Roll Hotel #
2/10/14: Boston, MA - Brighton Music Hall
2/14/14: Montreal, QC - Casa Del Popolo *
2/15/14: Toronto, ON - The Garrison *
2/17/14: Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda's #
2/18/14: Pittsburgh, PA - Andy Warhol Museum #
2/19/14: Columbus, OH - Wexner Center @ Ohio Univ. #
2/20/14: Indianapolis, IN - Joyful Noise #
2/21/14: St Louis, MO - Off Broadway #
2/23/14: St Paul, MN - Turf Club #
2/25/14: Denver, CO - Larimer Lounge #
2/26/14: Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court #
2/28/14: Vancouver, BC - Biltmore Cabaret #
3/1/14: Portland, OR - Doug Fir Lounge #
3/2/14: Seattle, WA - Columbia City Theater #
3/4/14: San Francisco, CA - The Chapel #
3/5/14: Visalia, CA - The Cellar Door #
3/7/14: Los Angeles, CA - Museum Of Natural History # (Accompanied by WILD UP! Music Collective)
3/8/14: La Jolla, CA - The Loft @ UCSD #
3/12-3/15: Austin TX - SXSW
# w: Son Lux
* w: Alexandra Stewart

 

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