It might be considered an inconvenient truth, but some albums just aren’t the sort which immediately grab and hold imaginations – it can take a longer period of time for the seeds to germinate. San Fermin‘s second album is just like that; for me, it took a couple of listens to think it was anything more than a sophomore bomb because the band’s self-titled debut was so big and attention-grabbing.
San Fermin [s/t] was the portrait of a great debut in that it saw the band come blasting out with an unique, idiosyncratic sound which featured a minimum number of unnecessary frills (few in the context for what the band was doing) presented boldly before the band stood back to see what might happen. It worked out pretty well, of course; San Fermin caught on with people who understood the “otherness” about the band, and that group of fans grew quickly.
Now it’s a couple of years later, and Jackrabbit proves not so easy to absorb – not initially, anyway. On first listen, songs like “The Cave,” “Woman In Red” and “Emily” register themselves as being pretty dour and struggle with their mid-tempo pacing. It’s really not easy to get around that at first but, on repeated listens, what the band is peddling begins to take and listeners will find they’re compelled to track back or even just start the whole album over again to see what they might have overlooked. It’s good that they do too – because there’s a lot to find.
After they begin re-evaluating Jackrabbit (read: after they’ve limped through the album once and begin their second or third pass through it) listeners will find themselves wondering how they didn’t see the value in “The Woods” immediately. As the song opens the album, “The Woods” casts a much different impression of San Fermin than their first album did, but it’s still very attractive. “The Woods” implies a darker experience looming than any moment on the band’s debut did as it cuts an ominous image which thumps and clatters along, yet still manages a hypnotic rhythm thanks to Allen Tate’s vocals. Eventually, the song manages to creep into the minds of listeners and hold them warmly in a way which makes escape impossible. It is captivating because it is completely unlike the start that San Fermin made on their first album.
Yes, Jackrabbit is captivating because of how different it is from its predecessor, but that does not mean the album doesn’t test fans, on occasion. There are moments – even as early as the second track (“Ladies Mary”) – when the parts of the sound that San Fermin are playing with simply do not line up. In the case of that track in particular, co-singer Charlene Kay’s vocal surpasses ‘wistful’ and simply lands in ‘syrupy,’ which does not suit the darker overall tone of the album at all. Also, there are far too many instrumental asides on Jackrabbit; often clocking in at a minute or less, tracks like “Ecstatic Thoughts,” “The Glory” and “Halcyon Days” don’t feel so much like dramatic asides as they do like pointless channel surfing moments which really don’t add anything other than a ‘half-finished’ vibe to the proceedings. Granted, when the band is on (as they are in songs like the rough and stomping “Philosopher,” the haunting “Parasites” and the bracing, orchestral “Billy Bibbit”) they’re in phenomenal form which surpasses the expectations set by San Fermin – the challenge simply becomes dodging the distraction which also appear on this album to get to them.
With all of the above in mind, the second obstacle becomes trying to qualify the quality of Jackrabbit. On one hand, the album has some great moments but, on the other, it occasionally comes off as sounding half-finished and frustrating as a result. In that way, the album is most definitely a challenge. Is it an insurmountable challenge? This writer is inclined to say that it absolutely isn’t – however, a listener must be willing to be patient with Jackrabbit in order to get the most from it.