The High Llamas
It's hard for me to believe that the High Llamas have been around for almost 10 years now. I actually first heard them on their Hawaii release (which was technically their third) back in 1996, but since that time Sean O' Hagan (the main member of the group) has been even more prolific, releasing just about one album per year, as well as one album of remixes. In that time, he's worked with Stereolab (on several releases), as well as big names like John McEntire (of Tortoise) and Jim O'Rourke. One inevitable name that seems to always be thrown around in reference to music by the High Llamas is that of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.
I'm not one to rise above such comparisons, mainly because it's pretty damn near impossible not to mention it at least a little. The High Llamas are breezy summer pop, updated for the new age with a touch of electronic gurgles and plenty of 'la-la' choruses that make you feel like you're floating away to a slightly better place. There's a bit of Bacharach in the pop nuggets as well, especially on Buzzle Bee, where nary a minor sound is uttered. It's fluff, but damn if it isn't super entertaining fluff.
The album actually starts out with a super dreamy tune in "The Passing Bell." After starting out with a 5-piece female chorus singing their "la-la's" over some light marimba style percussion and plunky bass, the actual verse part of the song is sung by O'Hagan in his typical light style before the female chorus comes in again with sort of an echoing chorus. It's deliberate and a bit long (as nearly all the lyrics in the song repeat at least once), but once the snow melts away and I need some music to get me started on my hammock swing, I know what's going to be in the CD player. The second track on the disc is even more slowly-paced, and in some sort of strange hybrid sounds like Mouse On Mars slowed down and set to island music.
The first track on the disc to really pick up the tempo a bit is the third track "Get Into The Galley Shop" and it again starts out with a chorus of "la-la's." Basically, if you can't stand the nonsensical lyrics, steer clear of this disc, because there are plenty of vocals that are simply used as other floating layers in the light mix. One of the best tracks on the album is Tambourine Day, on which Mary Hanson shares vocal duties with O'Hagan and the two trade off in a very delightful way. It's a nice change having her in the forefront instead of being relegated to providing background on every track.
Really, there isn't a whole lot going on with this release that O'Hagan hasn't done with any of his other releases, it's just a bit more of his same, light pop sounds. It's much more in the style of his newer releases like Cold And Bouncy and Snowbug, with lots of modular synths and bubbling electronics crossed with harpsichords and light percussion. Still, it's more nicely constructed than most anything that's on the radio, and for lazying in the warm spring sun, there isn't a much better soundtrack.