The follow-up to 2015's elaborate and often challenging Jackrabbit, Belong finds San Fermin mastermind Ellis Ludwig-Leone delivering a more streamlined set of chamber pop confections that reflects the group's evolution from his post-Yale composition project to a fully operational and battle-tested band. As per usual, the lineup has been tooled with a bit -- they are now an eight-piece -- but brooding baritone Allen Tate and charismatic N.Y.C. singer/songwriter Charlene Kaye remain the band's vocal mainstays -- Kaye took over for touring vocalist Rae Cassidy in 2014. The aptly named "Open" starts things off disjointedly, with the vaguely humanoid electronic samples that heralded Jackrabbit eventually giving way to elliptical swirls of strings and brass, and steamy electro-beats. Subsequent cuts "Bride" and "Oceanica" continue to flirt with icy European pop textures, with the former invoking names like Susanne Sundfør and Lykke Li, and the latter sharing space with the midnight urban electronica of Sohn and Lapsley -- the slow-burn "Bones" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Frank Ocean's Blond. Ludwig-Leone's arrangements continue to impress with their ability to frame simple melodies with controlled chaos, and Tate and Kaye provide compelling performances throughout, especially on the smoldering title cut, in which they tease each other with the promise/threat "I belong to you, but not all the time." Belong manages to strike a nice balance between San Fermin's musical theater/experimental rock predilections and their emerging pop ambitions, and while there's still a lot to chew on, the taste has grown significantly sweeter.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger