High Llamas Can Cladders

[Drag City; 2007]

Styles: indie pop, chamber pop
Others: Beach Boys, Eric Matthews, Aluminum Group

It's a cliché that the little things make life worth living, but, as can sometimes be the case with clichés, there's a good deal of truth in it. In my estimation, a new album by The High Llamas is definitely one of those little things that gets unduly taken for granted, and for too long they have existed in the periphery of the already peripheral genre of indie chamber pop. Perhaps this relative obscurity is the unavoidable side effect of creating music so gloriously laid back that it seems effortless, but thankfully, for those who have succumbed to their charms, Llamas mastermind Sean O'Hagan has never let public inattentiveness impede his pursuit of unassuming and blissful melodicism. Continuing this tradition, Can Cladders is an unapologetically lovely affair that is sure to soothe the frazzled nerves of its discerning listening public.

Another cliché is for critics to compare anything sufficiently poppy to the work of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, but in no other case is this comparison more appropriate than for O'Hagan and his cohorts. Particularly, there is the period from roughly 1967-69, where BW was admittedly breaking down, but also where some of the most lovely, psychedelic, and atmospheric music of their career was made. The High Llamas carry this torch more soberly, though no less lushly. "Old Spring Town" opens with an inquiring string phrase that gets quickly answered with a little organ line and a mildly funky drum beat. This call-and-response is perpetuated throughout the song with O'Hagan and a female vocalist trading questions "How many times have you been to Mexico?/ How many times have you been to Angelo?" The interplay between O'Hagan's vocals and various female performers' is an element of continuity throughout the album. Where such things have been used as background accents in the past, it seems there's a real attempt to integrate them more fully into the foreground of these songs, a nice move indeed.

The mild funk of the opener also travels through the album, popping up in what might be the most soulful singing ever on a High Llamas record with "Winter's Day," or the accents on the upbeats of "Honeytrop." Another apt, if unexpected, nod to an understated afro-am influence is the cryptic Dorothy Ashby tribute "Dorothy Ashby," which offers the space for graceful harp. Still, this is classic Llamas with careful, delicate arrangements of strings, vibes, woodwinds, and spare percussion, and I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that there's been a drastic makeover in any sense. When a group's sound is as finely tuned and relatively rare as this, I consider that consistency a blessing.

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