Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Album covers are often just garnish on top of the actual product, but the artwork San Fermin ties to its releases has some symbolic heft. San Fermin’s self-titled debut was a classical depiction of a bull. Outside of San Fermin’s name coming from a festival where the citizens of Pamplona outrun bulls in their Spanish streets (yeah, don’t ask me), the painting also reflected the qualities of its album—stoic, beautiful and with hints of danger lurking in the foreground. Jackrabbit’s half gold/half flesh bunny similarly mirrors the music within—gaudy moments, touched with earthy tenderness and a tendency to hyperactively flip from one idea to another. San Fermin’s debut was a concept album of sorts. A stage was surely set and characters milled about, but plot points were shrouded in darkness and confusion abounded, all fashioned by San Fermin head crazy person, Ellis Ludwig-Leone. A Yale grad who studied composition, Leone created a tapestry that threaded strange characters and brilliant settings all into one grand picture. Jackrabbit works on the same fractured logic. Allen Tate is our protagonist, a jaded soul looking to ease his pain through wanton sex and Gatsby style parties. Of course, San Fermin—showing operatic influences right on the album sleeve—makes all of Tate’s excess pointless, leaving him sobbing and more cynical than ever. “It’s never enough in the morning/ No matter who I go home with,” sighs Tate on “Emily.” The storyline here seems to be a continuation from the debut, linking together previously released songs like the sorrow filled “Casanova” and the lust fueled madness of “The Count” to Tate’s guilty recollections here. He’s quite the sadsack, but something about his gravely bass-baritone makes it more compelling. Tate’s been compared to the National’s Matt Berninger in the past, but anyone saying that they sound the same clearly isn’t used to baritones in their pop. Tate has a more commanding low range, and flashes of soul and R&B occasionally shine through. The stark “Woman in Red” starts with Tate in his lowest growl before the song picks up speed, delivering Tate into the sky-high chorus of “you can’t expect a man not to fantasize,” a gut-punch, both due to the dynamic contrast and Tate’s previous attempts to go on the straight and narrow. Even while admitting flaw after flaw, Tate strides on with grace, especially on the elegant “Astronaut” as his wishes for a calmer life are accented by rising drums and a glorious, stratospheric soprano voice in the song’s climax. Leone and Tate have been partners in crime for years, and Leone’s compositions clearly cater to Tate’s strengths. Unfortunately, Leone doesn’t quite give the same lavish excellence to new band member Charlene Kaye, Jackrabbit’s female narrator. Jackrabbit finds more pop in its DNA than the previous record, with Leone creating some extravagant (nearly ‘80s in quality) songs for Kaye to sing over. Considering San Fermin’s best moments have always come from the marriage of chamber leanings and pop sensibilities, full-on earworms don’t always fit into the album’s nooks and crannies. The title track, despite Kaye’s languid performance, is just a bit too sweet for its own good. Ditto the main melody of “Parasites” (though the rhythm section gets to go off the rails with an ADD groove) and the near synth pop of “Philosopher” just feels hedonistic in its musical choices. It’s a disappointment in comparison to the balance San Fermin struck with Tate’s best moments (“Renaissance!” and “Daedalus (What We Have”) equally matched by his female counterparts, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius (“Crueler Kind” and “Sonsick”). Jackrabbit feels more modern in its tendencies, for ill or otherwise. Its struggle is rooted in duality, something it notes on its best offering, opener “The Woods.” Tate wanders into the forest with an unnamed companion for a day and is radically changed by the time he emerges from the pine trees and dark corners filled with “witches.” At first, it seems like Tate might just be singing about a day of wayward adventure with a childhood friend, but as the song grows more feverish, Tate’s coo of “two went in and one came home,” might point to the death of his own innocence. As the music grows with menace he recalls “pulling legs off salamanders,” until it all collapses into the screech of a sinister saxophone. It fits for Tate’s character, as he constantly works toward reclaiming the happiness of simpler times, but “The Woods” also compounds the excellence and the failures of Jackrabbit. Just as our narrator suffers from his own fits of growing pains, San Fermin owns the same fate.