For years, The High Llamas appeared to be a band steadfastly resistant to change. Having charted a course that remained unflinchingly true to their intentions of re-channelling late-`60s Beach Boys records through a filter of Steely Dan-styled soft rock and Stereolab-esque electronic cleverness through their first six albums, 2003's Beet, Maize & Corn, was, therefore, something of a curve ball.
With the rhythm section of the band replaced with a rich orchestral backing, the album marked a radical departure for the band and, given how critically celebrated it was, one which fans might have assumed would be permanent.
In fact, it appears that Beet, Maize & Corn was merely a stylistic vacation, as Can Cladders has Sean O'Hagan return to his regular modus operandi of crafting bouncy and jaunty pop music. So, while the album starts with a wonderful strings arrangement on The Old Spring Town, it's soon replaced by the harmonies of Winter's Day, which, of course, are ever-so-slightly reminiscent of the Beach Boys. Later, Bacaroo has the same graceful, gossamer feel of an early Free Design record.
As ever with The High Llamas, the comparisons with the Beach Boys are undeniable and, yes, a little bit lazy. But ultimately, it's meant as a sincere compliment, because Sean O'Hagan isn't far away from equalling Brian Wilson's genius.