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Album Cover The High Llamas - Snowbug (V2)

The master behind this formidable outfit is one-time Microdisney man Sean O'Hagan. O'Hagan co-founded the London-based Irish group along with Cathal Coughlan of Fatima Mansions fame. Much of their collaborative work echoed Steely Dan influenced guitar pop. Microdisney called it a day in 1988, but the High Llamas first musical offering didn't appear until 1994. 1999 sees the release of "Snowbug", their fifth album in as many years.

This panoply of layered melodies and harmonic vocals draws obvious comparisons with the Beach Boys, particularly in the two opening tracks on the album. 'Bach Ze' is all loungy guitars and cool string arrangements, while 'Harpers Romo' is riddled with straight-out-of-the-sixties keyboards. There is detailed, lucid orchestration running through the album most notably in 'Hoops Hooley', a percussive melting pot of Hammond organ, xylophone and glockenspiel. 'Janet Jangle' is from the same school of percussive overload, its jazz guitars and tropical shades which makes you want to listen to close your eyes and turn off the lights.

One of the album's highlights is, without doubt, O'Hagan's decision to utilise the dulcet, Gallic tones of Stereolab duo Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen. Their vocals sweep onto 'Cookie Bay' and save it from sounding like a parody of the 'Theme from McArthur Park'. They also feature on 'Cotton to the Bell', an ethereal, atmospheric slowdive that's not a million parsecs away from Spiritualized. As well as all this offbeat eclecticism, there are a handful of quirky upbeat tunes like 'Go to Montecito' and 'Green Coaster', which are pure electro pop.

"Snowbug" boasts complex, but tight layers of melody looped around impressive vocal and percussive arrangements. It might not maintain the momentum of previous albums but it's safe to say there is nothing much like this in terms of music around at the moment. Well worth checking out.

by Sinead Gleeson.