Home Site

The High Llamas

  • Gideon Gaye,
  • Hawaii,
  • Cold And Bouncy,
  • Snowbug,
  • Beet, Maize And Corn
  • Can Cladders

  • Album Reviews |

    The High Llamas

    1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th

    Gideon Gaye ( 1994 )
    Giddy Strings / The Dutchman / Giddy And Gay / Easy Rod / Checking In, Checking Out / The Goat Strings / Up In The Hills / The Goat Looks On / Taog Skool No / Little Collie / Track Goes By / Let's Have Another Look / The Goat (Instrumental)

    In the Eighties, there was a little known but highly appreciated band by those that knew them called 'Microdisney'. A few years after that group disbanded, Sean O Hagen formed 'The High Llamas' evidently having just discovered The Beach Boys back catalogue. Hence we have a series of musical backing tracks rich in 'Pet Sounds' attention to detail. Strings, distinctly Brian Wilson esque Piano and backing vocals to boot. Several of the songs have been split - so you get brief reprises of certain sections. It's rather akin to listening to The Beach Boys 'Pet Sounds Sessions' where instrumental tracks from the sessions keep popping up all over. Very beautiful though. The first song proper, following the brief string interlude 'Giddy Strings' is the gorgeous 'The Dutchman'. Very Brian Wilson, very string laden. 'Giddy And Gay' has another gorgeous 'Pet Sounds' / 'Cabinessence' atmosphere, and fans of The Beach Boys at this stage, are likely to be raised in their seats with ears to the speakers! Very nice harmonies for this song, too. 'Easy Rod' is a strange little instrumental, more of an atmosphere than a song or a track. It serves a purpose however, because it leads perfectly into the Steely Dan influenced delight that is 'Checking In, Checking Out'. If only anybody had heard of 'The High Llamas' and they were, you know, promoted or something.....this would have been a huge hit single. 'The Goat Strings' again draws comparison with 'Pet Sounds Sessions' through it's gorgeous, perfectly done and heartbreaking violin sound.

    We switch to The Beach Boys 'Friends' album for the characteristic and quirky 'Up In The Hills' instrumental. Yeah, The High Llamas sound like certain Beach Boys records. What are you gonna do about it? Thing is, choosing 'Friends' as a base for your inspiration is to be applauded! Rather than just stick a few 'ba ba ba' harmonies, and call it 'Beach Boys'. The High Llamas do it well. Not on the terribly overlong 'Track Goes By' however, which of all things, includes something like a seven minute long flute instrumental! A few pieces of fluffy filler close the record, but we do have 'The Goat Looks On'. A beautiful musical track, full of melody and changes amid a mid-tempo pace perfectly suiting the harmony vocals. It's a highlight here, and a welcome song from a welcome debut by a band that really should be welcomed by fans of The Beach Boys!!

    Add A Comment?

    Readers Comments

    Gavin gavin@intomusic.co.uk
    I remember when this came out, I went to the gig at the Garage in London on the strength of the single Checking in, Checking out and the fact that I was a Microdisney fan. It's great folk pop, 60's west coast style song with some psychedelic floutishes. if you want to hear more of this music a good option is http://www.intomusic.co.uk/thehighllamas

    Hawaii 9 ( 1996 )
    Cuckoo Casino / Sparkle Up / Literature Is Fluff / Nomads / Snapshot Pioneer / Ill-Fitting Suits / Recent Orienteering / The Hot Revivalist / Phoney Racehorse / Dressing up the Old Dakota / D.C.8 / Doo-Wop Property / Theatreland / A Friendly Pioneer / Cuckoo's Out / Peppy / There's Nobody Home / The Hokey Curator / Campers in Control / Double Drift / Island People / Incidentally N.E.O. / Tides / Nomad Strings / Pilgrims / Rustic Vespa / Folly Time / Hawaiian Smile / Instrumental Suits

    Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys was so impressed by this record he invited Sean O Hagan of The High Llamas to fly over to the States regarding the possibility he work on new recordings by The Beach Boys. Sean arrived at the airport and was apparently immediately called a faggot by Mike Love. Brian Wilson, upon hearing 'Hawaii' said ( of Sean O Hagan ) 'he obviously likes Pet Sounds', but Brian had no interest in working with Sean, or the other Beach Boys either, for that matter. Thus, the prospect of Sean producing a new Beach Boys record fell through. To be fair, this twenty nine song suite is less 'Pet Sounds' than it is 'Cabinessence' or 'Friends'. Lots of quirky 'Friends' style instrumentals here very reminiscent of The Beach Boys. Following the brief noise of the opening song we move into 'Sparkle Up' the first of many instrumentals here. We get string sections, Brian Wilson esque melodic changes and a sound so very late sixites, so very lying on a California beach - it's hard to credit it was recorded in 1996 and recorded by a bunch of guys from 'sunny' England! 'Literature Is Fluff', the first of the vocal tunes is just....well, it's good. Nice harmonies, both vocally and musically. 'Nomads' is pure 1966/1967 era Beach Boys in it's musical track, all rising and falling melodies. The vocals and lyrics are charming and we have another winner on our hands! Other highlights from the first half of this record include the beautiful slower song, 'Ill-Fitting Suits' and 'Dressing Up The Old Dakota'.

    The reason for the comparisons to The Beach Boys 'Friends' record arrives with the so very 'Friends' 'Doo-Wop Property'. Some may find it hard to fathom exactly why anyone would want to produce a 'Friends' type of a song, but any fan of that particular record will tell you why. It's to do with the atmosphere, the evocative images that appear in your mind. Beaches, late at night. Walking with a beautiful girl, arm in arm by the sea. Just you and me. If there is a particular problem with this album, it's that at twenty songs running to over seventy minutes - it's overlong. Plenty of linking tracks fill up the playing time, when perhaps they aren't strictly necessary. 'D.C. 8 ' for example, is just twenty five seconds long and seemingly serves no real purpose at all. Still, when we do reach a song proper, something like 'Cuckoo's Out' with it's flutes and strings.....swooning is a possibility. Another possibility is that I'll misspell possibility. Or, upon reading this review, you'll think I'm a idiot! Ah, whatever. Another charming instrumental arrives with 'The Hokey Curator'. The title says it all, really. Very 'Smile', very Van Dyke Parks. Do you have to be a fan of the mid to late sixties material of The Beach Boys to enjoy this record? Quite possibly. If you are though....chances are....you'll love this record. At least a little, anyhow.

    Add A Comment?

    Readers Comments

    Bob Green bob.green56@btopenworld.com
    Probably & possibly one of my all-time favourite albums (yes I am old enough to have appreciated that mid-60's thing first time around) and while I go along with the Brian Wilson-esque feel and structure of some of the songs and pieces, to my mind there are echoes if not in sound but in general vibe (i.e. there is nothing on Hawaii that will really hurt your head) to John Cale's 'Paris 1919' album - coincidentally another all-time favourite!

    Peter Lindahl inthelabyrinth@swipnet.se
    Iīve got several High llamas titles in my posession now since about four years and I still consider Hawaii to be their best one to date. Also Iīd like to say that their kind of music (which is very mellow to my ears) is badly needed in this age that we are living in when the airwaves are getting jammed with so much noice that itīs even hard to hear ones own thoughts! Also I think itīs great that Sean and the guys picked up Brianīs masterpieces as a source of inspiration, something which can be easily traced in many of their recordings.

    Cold And Bouncy 8 ( 1998 )
    Twisto Teck / The Sun Beats Down / Hiball Nova Scotia / Tilting Windmills / Glide Time / Bouncy Glimmer / Three Point Scrabble / Homespin Rerun / Painters Paint / Evergreen Vampo / Showstop Hip Hop / Over the River / End of Tick Tock / Didball / Jazzed Carpenter / Lobby Bears

    The High Llamas usual dose of Beach Boys inspired pop is given an electronica makeover for this quite charming set of songs. The group retain a mix of instrumentals and 'proper' songs and cut down an album for the first time in their career to a more manageable length. Well, some of the songs appearing towards the very end here aren't as alluring as the opening set of songs, some of the instrumental tracks are filler, but other than that! A fine album!! 'The Sun Beats Down' is all Beach Boys airy summer relaxation with a layer of electronica noises over the top. These electronica elements actually add nothing to the song, but do mark out this album as being definitely different to either of the previous two High Llamas albums proper. 'Hiball Nova Scotia' is all tinkling keyboards and 'bubble' sounds created electronically. 'Tilting Windmills' is rather jaunty and includes harmonized vocals and what sounds like a banjo. It's a pretty good song, gorgeous summer pop with added strings and beeps. 'Glide Time' is a gorgeous instrumental, 'Bouncy Glimmer' very definitely filler, but atmospheric filler at that. 'Three Point Scrabble' is back to a rich vocal mix over an odd electronically created rhythm with strings soaring over the top. The electronica elements sound strange initially, but repeated listening fully integrates them into your brain as an integral part of this new High Llamas sound. 'Homespin Rerun' is a Beach Boys 'Friends' style instrumental, The High Llamas do this kind of thing very well. It may be a strange thing to base large parts of your sound on one of The Beach Boys less celebrated Sixties works, but Sean O'Hagen ( most high of the high llamas! ) makes it work for himself all the same.

    'Painters Paint' opens the second half of the record with a weak vocal melody over another richly arranged backing track. The vocal does redeem itself once the chorus gets going. 'Evergreen Vampo' is an attempted atmospheric instrumental linking track, but at three minutes in length, rather unnecessary. 'Showstop Hip Hop' is the happiest, sunniest pop song on the second half of the album, as good as anything else here in fact. 'Over The River' is a cool little breezy instrumental with banjo, trumpet, flute - the works. A Brian Wilson fans wet-dream of an instrumental, indeed. The closing songs aren't terribly interesting - 'Jazzed Carpenter' comes closest, 'Lobby Bears' being just a little too strange and 'shifting' to really work. Something of a mixed bag then, 'Cold And Bouncy', although still possessing of enough quality and gorgeous moments to be recommended.

    Add A Comment?

    Snowbug 7 ( 1999 )
    Bach Ze / Harpers Romo / Hoops Hooley / Cookie Bay / Triads / The American Scene / Go to Montecito / Janet Jangle / Amin / Daltons Star / Cotton to the Bell / Green Coaster / Cut the Dummy Loose

    The lines between Stereolab and frequent Stereolab contribution Sean O'Hagen become blurred on the wonderful pop of 'Cookie Bay' when the vocalists from Stereolab guest and sing this song. They also make an appearance on the relaxed and jazzy 'Bach Ze' which is nicely mellow and autumn flavoured, despite the lyrical section 'it's nearly summer now'. Well, I may be wrong, I usually am! 'Hoops Hooley' is a definite highlight of this album, the finest approximation yet The High Llamas have achieved of the instrumentals from The Beach Boys 'Friends' album. This is fantastic stuff! 'Triads' works well, another relaxed song, mellow, and the sound of summer floating into Autumn, an Autumn day with summer sunshine. Slightly weary, slightly gorgeous, definitely worthwhile. 'The American Scene' is slow, turgid and lacking in the usual deft touch of The High Llamas as far as melody and structure is concerned. 'Harpers Romo' sounds right, but ultimately is forgettable and adds absolutely nothing new to the career of The High Llamas. You do get the impression they are rather coasting here, coasting across the album as a whole, actually.

    'Go To Montecito' is a Jazz flavoured, slightly bossa-nova groove to open the second half of the record, 'Janet Jangle' a nice, melodic instrumental, although hardly substantial. 'Amin' opens with a light burst of drums, guitars enter. Everything slows down, harmonies and strings, twinkling percussion. All the right High Llamas elements are here, but for whatever reason this remains inessential stuff. Maybe perhaps because we've heard it all before from The High Llamas, and done better as well. 'Cotton To The Bell' is a strange electronica mix of sounds, doesn't quite work for me. The closing two songs are totally forgettable if still retaining the sound of The High Llamas. The final song 'Cut The Dummy Loose' is very relaxed, vocal contributions from Mary Hansen of Stereolab. It's nice, but what does it amount to? The album sounds nice from beginning to end, to be honest. It's by no means a bad record as such, it's just not an inspired record, and certainly not the finest work from The High Llamas. It's bordering on a grade of six and a half, but gets a seven anyway. I'm a sucker for the sound this group create, I can't help myself.

    Add A Comment?

    Readers Comments

    Grady prudentbearband@yahoo.com
    Can't forget Harper's Romo, one of O'Hagan's periodic meditations on artistic expression. A delight. I think Snowbug is an underrated record overall - I would place it above Cold And Bouncy. Better and more memorable songs as well as captivating arrangements. Also, the quite nylon-string guitar passages presage Beet Maze & Corn (their true, late-blooming masterpiece). They were onto something here. Makes that Buzzle Bee misstep all the more perplexing...

    Beet, Maize And Corn ( 2003 )
    Barny Mix / Calloway / The Click And The Fizz / Porter Dimi / Leaf And Lime / Alexandra Line / High On The Chalk / Rotary Hop / Ribbons And Hi Hats / The Holly Hills / Monnie / The Walworth River

    Following The High Llamas departure from Virgin Records, their profile has dropped so low that I don't recall seeing this album reviewed, or praised, or criticized. I saw a review in 'Q' magazine or something. It was 'oh, here's another high llamas album, nobody cares'. They may have had a point but they were being unfair. They obviously are too tied up praising Justin Timberlake to realise that good music has gone underground. I've been a victim of this myself, witnessing many a best of list and for the first time, not recognizing some of the artists. There is a lot of great music out there, none of which you will ever hear, unless you are determined to search and find it. Back to the High Llamas. They released an album called 'Buzzle Bee'. I think I was so disillusioned with events, I didn't even bother to buy it. I bought this, so astonished to even SEE a new High Llamas album. In any event, I'm very glad I bought this. It's an album you want to stroke and hug and take to bed with you.

    Gone is the electronica. Gone are the obvious Beach Boys / Van Dyke Parks / Brian Wilson influences. Well, not entirely - just that everything has been stripped back. They've gone for a natural, organic approach that works very well indeed. The strings are the most prominent instrument, guitar second. Any notion of prominent electric bass or rock n roll drums is a no-go. This is an album so unfashionable and out of time, it beggars belief that it even exists in the first place. Oh, the strings are gorgeous! Oh, so are the guitars! Sean O'Hagen does mostly acoustic strumming, we've got pretty and clever subtle percussion all over the place. We've got a twelve track high llamas album with only two instrumentals. Yeah, this is an album that's song based, primarily. That's not always been the case with The High Llamas.

    The album opens with strings, 'Barny Mix' follows, trumpets and 'Cabinessence' percussion. The vocals are airy and beautifully recorded, credit to producer and engineer Fulton Dingley, he's done a marvellous job with this record. The strings of 'Barny Mix' flow seamlessly into the violin opening of 'Calloway'. The vocals are warm, the lone acoustic guitar mixes with the strings and percussion. The instrumentation is soft and has room and air to breathe in. 'Calloway' is a gorgeous track, just one of many that 'Beet, Maize And Corn' boasts. 'Leaf And Lime', classic High Llamas. High Llamas that most recalls the feeling long-term fans had when first hearing 'Gideon Gaye', that sense of this not being everyday, or even possible in this day and age. A relaxing, timeless beauty. Something so not in touch with events of today, blissfully so, that you just sit up and laugh. A fine album, indeed.

    Add A Comment?

    Readers Comments

    alex alex.johns@ukf.net
    Yep, I like it too. Beautifully recorded album, love the brass! No idea what any of it is about mind you, but that applies to all Sean's stuff!

    Thomas Walsh wallysweb@eircom.net
    This album is simply MAGNIFICENT!! Christ , the shit that passes for music nowadays and you have to delve and trawl to the very bottom of the rack for this masterpiece!!!!! "The Holly Hills" is mind-blowing in it's beauty.....STUNNING!! http://www.pugwashtheband.com/

    top of page
    Can Cladders ( 2007 )
    Old Spring Town / Winter's Day / Sailing Bells / Boing Backwards / Honeytrap / Bacaroo / Can Cladders / Something About Paper / Clarion Union Hall / Cave Cutter (Hills and Fields) / Dorothy Ashby / Rollin' / Summer Seen

    Indie pop, baroque pop, chamber pop. The Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks and Burt Bacharach. Typical comparisons and words that pop up whenever a new High Llamas album floats into view. 'Can Cladders is less Beach Boys than some other efforts he's released. Like 'Beat, Maize And Corn' it has a very natural sound and a very relaxed, lazily nice atmosphere. It's perfect for humming away to on a summer's day. I say this even though both of the opening tracks seem to be firmly pitching themselves at the winter time. Winter's Day' most obviously, but 'Old Spring Town' also paints pictures with words and music, The frost is on the ground and the ferry's far away living in the old spring town. We have hills and sailing and rain dotted around the album. Seaspray, snow and an english green. Acoustic guitar, piano, bass, drums and vibes, with those instruments joined by a string quartet, harp, banjo and a group of female vocalists. Thirteen songs ( including two brief instrumentals ) clock in at just under 40 minutes and because the album is so undemanding as to be almost background music, it's very easy to listen to over and over again. Detail in the instrumentation and the vocals keep you coming back for more. These carefully painted songs are as descriptive and picturesque songs as he's ever done, bearing in mind Sean's fairly limited lyrical and vocal range. This is where the female backing singers clearly help out. They almost take over for a few songs, Sean's voice just another in the mix in order to create the right blend. If we must make comparisons to a Brian Wilson, that's something he'd also often do. So, 'Can Cladders' can also be described as thirteen postcards from the imagination. It's not 'Pet Sounds', nor even 'Hawaii', yet Sean O'Hagen has definitely created another worthy album release.

    We pick some highlights then. It's a difficult thing to do here because nothing obviously leaps out at you. It takes repeated listens, as i've already said, an easy and enjoyable thing to do anyway, to make certain songs poke their heads above the parapit. 'Carion Union Hall' therefore stands-out by having quite such a lovely vocal and musical blend. It's soft and caressing with jazzy hints laying underneath. The bouncy 'Honeytrap' has rising scales and melodic thrills. 'Dorothy Ashby' is of all things a proper song, not something High Llamas always do, more often than not letting the overall sound and flow become more important than the song and the song structure. Along with 'Beet, Maize and Corn', the song itself has become more important to High Llamas and I welcome this development. Gone are the instrumentals that never go anywhere or the pointless extended instrumental outros or repetitions. 'Dorothy Ashby' is a lovely, lovely thing. Music lost and found.... from another day. Well, quite.

    Add A Comment?

    top of page
    this page last updated 11/03/07

    Full Archive - Sort by Decade - Sort by Genre

    Album Reviews | A-Z Artists | Beginners Guides | Twitter | Blogs We Like |
    Channel Youtube | Contact Us | Find New Music | Features | Music & Web Apps | Ratings At A Glance
    Singles Bar | Top 100 Albums | Top 100 Songs |

    Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

    Made In Devon.