The High Llamas - Talahomi Way
Sean O'Hagan's contributions outside of his project The High Llamas have been most recognized in Stereolab. Duh. You all knew that, or at least should be aware of that if you're in a camp that, like myself, cares about/for High Llamas. Insert some historical information about Microdisney and his other briefer projects and huzzah, his career. Let's get back to business now.
While his evocative, lounge inspired arrangements have long made magnificent opuses out of songs by the Groop, his High Llamas releases have always been of a distinct style (or two). Since Beet, Maize & Corn reinvented his wheel as a bucolic chamber pop/retro lounge project, and since Can Cladders improved that sound, The High Llamas have been a bit quiet. Returning some three (or four) years after Cladders with Talahomi Way, O'Hagan now reveals himself as a musician and composer at ease in his territory. No longer apparently in the process of "deprogramming" and decoding himself from his electronic past, Talahomi merges the two to some degree of effectiveness.
Part of the appeal of The High Llamas that cannot be readily identified lies in the ease with which modern cleanliness and studio tweaks are blended with music rooted with two feet in the past. While it can be argued that Microdisney and even Stereolab were and are about forward movement while harkening to a prior period, the Llamas have been joyfully gauzing their tunes with the arrangements that can be found here again. The songs themselves blur the lines between 1960s arrangers/Wrecking Crew charts and Lab circa Sound-Dust and Dots and Loops with similar results to Can Cladders. Where the country driving synesthesia ends, the confusion and frustration begins. 'Take My Hand' marks a high point for the album, a deceptively minimal and brief song that is as catchy and laid back as it is effective in distilling what Talahomi Way should have strived for. More often than not, the songs of this album tend to be forgettable or seemingly by-the-numbers for O'Hagan. Only 'Angel Connector' and 'Fly, Baby, Fly' seem to put him out of his safety zone, and only sparingly so. What remains after that is a wholly enjoyable but somewhat disappointing collection of tunes that sound like leftovers from previous albums and bands.
While the faint specter of Sadier/Gane looms heavy, looking down at O'Hagan and smiling faintly, the High Llamas charge onwards to territory charted. Their previous journeys to the midst of new zones within baronies known had been enthralling at best and gorgeously dull at worst. Talahomi Way is between that, a full length that could have been an EP that, as it stands, is rife with ear candy that makes the mind crave more but (like candy) merely fills with no real satiation too often. As a fan I am let down, as a listener I am struck with fits of ennui, and as a writer I am at a loss for words.