I always tell friends that the easiest reviews to write are ones that are either really positive or really negative. The ones where I feel any sort of partial neutrality (aka decent, or good) are the ones that require sitting and staring at the screen and listening to recordings while trying to pull out something, anything that you can focus on and highlight.
Sean O'Hagan certainly isn't helping me out any on Can Cladders. The eighth album from orchestral pop group High Llamas, it sounds... a lot like other albums from the group. With a base foundation laid by acoustic guitar, piano, bass, drums, and vibes, the songs are again adorned with a string quartet, harp, banjo, and at times a quartet of female vocalists. If that sounds familiar, it's because that's largely been the modus operandi of the group for some time now, although a few diversions into other areas (including more electronics on the excellent Cold And Bouncy and the more sparse arrangements of my personal favorite Hawaii).
If it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not. I wasn't expecting the group to drastically (or even partially, really) change their direction, and they haven't. That said, there are some really nice songs on the release, including the female-singer and harp backed bossa-nova feeling "The Old Spring Town" and the almost lite-reggae bounce of "Honeytrop." As a whole, the album is some of their best work in some time, stacking up just fine against the more elaborate orchestral pop of the group while containing a few new slight variances as well.
Towards the end of the album, the strings are gone entirely, and their absence actually affords both "Dorothy Ashby" and "Rollin'" a slightly more rough feel that serves them well. The latter is especially effective, as the vocal-driven track moves with piano, organ, and vibes while the rhythm section walks things forward in a strutting way that plays into the title and lyrical content of the song perfectly. As always, Can Cladders is immaculately-produced, with an airy feel that emphasizes the breezy songs. In such an unstable world, I suppose it's not too bad of music to have around.