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.