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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understated songs brilliantly realised,
This review is from: Beet, Maize And Corn (Audio CD)This is a gently rolling autumnal sounding album. Like most of the High Llamas output I’m not sure if there is some concept behind this. Sean’s lyrics, as confusingly evocative as ever, suggest all these songs take place in the same location. It sounds like a suite of songs rather than 12 disparate tracks.
The first track Barny Mix effectively announces what to expect for the next 40 or so minutes (with a few gentle surprises along the way). It starts with low strings before brass, that good old Beach Boys tack piano and Sean’s vocals make their presence felt. It morphs into a gentle melody with vibraphone chords punctuated by bits of brass. It also proves that whilst Sean is nowhere near being a great singer you couldn’t imagine anybody else singing these songs.
Calloway contains a string that motif that sounds like Philip Glass as played by the Kronos Quartet, wordless female background singing, and there also seem to be elements of free jazz.
The Click and the Fizz, has impressionistic strings swelling in the foreground, a gentle vocal melody and is simply gorgeous.
Porter Dimi features both a male and a female chorus and shows that even largely acoustic music can sound slightly unhinged, whilst The House of Leaf and Lime is another mid-paced song with an elegantly unfolding melody that sticks in your brain.
There’s plenty of mileage in the rest of the tracks too although this album does take a number of playthroughs before it gives up it secrets and lets it beauty come through . Excellent songs, beautifully arranged, brilliantly realised and with sublime instrumental passages.
How does this compare to previous Llama’s albums? It’s probably too early to say but it’s currently my favourite. If you've been away from Sean's work for a while then this is the one to lure you back into the fold.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Return to form.,
This review is from: Beet, Maize And Corn (Audio CD)Back in 1996 it seemed that everywhere I went someone was playing 'Hawaii' by the High Llamas, a record of such sheer scope and ambition.....the general consensus was that it came close to what the Beach Boys legendary unreleased 'Smile' LP might have sounded like.
If you're reading this and you haven't bought a High Llamas record for a while then maybe this one might reel you back in.
The instrumentation is more organic than usual, in fact its amost 'unplugged'. There is percussion rather than drums, and the songs are built around jazzy acoustic guitar, woodwind, brass, vibes and Sean O'Hagan and Marcus Holdaway's gorgeous string arrangements. There is none of the bubble & squeak of vintage analogue synths that at times threatened to scribble out the other instruments on 'Cold & Bouncy'.
It's a close, intimate sound, but that's not to say that this is a 'chill out' record. There is so much going on, and more interesting melodic ideas than most bands manage in an entire career.
O'Hagans genius is the way he catches a gorgeous melodic phrase and lets it loop over a few times as if it were a sample, so you can take in the scenery before it spirals away to be replaced by another splash of harmonious colour.
Lyrically things are as ambiguous as ever, lots of references to beaches, cities, seasons and buildings. Musically it is spellbinding. Perhaps most stirring is 'Porter Dimi' where the band are joined by a soaring chorus of voices akin to The Free Design. 'Leaf and Lime' matches anything on 'Hawaii'. Generally, you never quite know what note is coming next, and on what instrument it will be played...there aren't many bands you can say that about.
High Llamas never fail to surprise, and here I reckon they have made their best record in....ooh about 7 years.......
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sean & Co. Never Fail To Impress Me!,
This review is from: Beet, Maize And Corn (Audio CD)Since The High Llamas came along, my idea of music has changed. If I have one qualm about their music as a whole, I'm not crazy about the occasional instrumental interludes - variations of other tunes (see "Hawaii" album to see that in full effect). Things can get a bit samey at times.
Having said all that, this album is one of the most beguiling ones they have done. The sound that Sean O'Hagan has now truly made is own is still in place, but this time augmented by a brass section as well as the obligatory strings.
This album, unlike their last proper effort "Buzzle Bee", is a much more emotive affair. It transports you just like "Hawaii" did on first hearing (but with only three instrumental interludes). "The Click And The Fizz" is my stand-out choice: I challenge you not to feel uplifted and melancholy at the same time. Sean's ear for out-Parks-ing Van Dyke (as a previous reviewer rightly observed) is amazing. The chord sequences used here really should not be on a pop album - it's forbidden! But thank goodness Sean knows rules are made to be broken!
Some bad points: the freeform sax bit at the end of "Barny Mix" was a little too self-indulgent for me. Also, audible crackling on "Porter Dimi". But, on a positive note, Sean's vocal delivery has come on leaps and bounds since "Checking In Checking Out".
I don't know about you folks, but I want to hear music that challenges the way I hear sound, music that amazes and impresses, but I also love a catchy tune. Is that too much ask? The High Llamas don't seem to think so. Cheers guys!
5.0 out of 5 stars Just discovered this band - great album!,
This review is from: Beet, Maize & Corn (Audio CD)Reflective, mildly disconnected, melancholic, wistful gentle rolling melodies and thoughtful well-written songs. This is an honest sounding album with some beautiful moments. I've just discovered the band having heard 'Leaf And Lime' on a compilation cd. I bought Hawaii soon after Beet Maize And Corn, but find that despite the glowing reviews, Hawaii has too many issues - occasional annoying over-repetitve melodies and musical cliches (there are some very well crafted songs too though!). Beet Maize And Corn though, is really very special. It manages to convey a slightly unsettling but at the same time beautiful feeling in the music. It can be sad but at the same time happy - in equal measures. The Beach Boys did this with 'The Warmth Of The Sun', 'Summer Means New Love', 'The Nearest Faraway Place' and 'The Beaks Of Eagles' and The Hollies got the balance right with 'He Aint Heavy'. The singer has a similar feel to Nick Drake. I'm not sure if I want to get any more Llamas albums, as I think I struck gold with this one.
5.0 out of 5 stars "We'll make a space for Calloway",
This review is from: Beet, Maize & Corn (Audio CD)I've been a fan of O'Hagan & his High Llamas since I first heard 'Apricots' way back in 1994 & have been enjoying their excursions every since. Sadly, too much is often made of his influences, usually by other people rather than the band themselves. This record throws those inevitably lazy 'Beach Boys/Van Dyke Parks' comparisons right out of the window; on this particular LP O'Hagan has stripped away the burbling moogs & oscilating notes, setting a course for more sombre but no less interesting pastures.
The strings are, as ever, fantastic. Unlike a fellow reviewer, I find the segue between the bubbling saxaphone of 'Barny Mix' & (into this listener's stand-out track) 'Calloway's string quartet intro absolutely spellbinding, a slowly rising refrain in 7/8 which fills the speakers with such melancholic precision (one of those 'wish I'd found those chords' moments one often gets listening to O'Hagan's music) that it blows me away every time, completely spoiling me with its rich yet simple emotion.
The rest of the album is equally familiar & strange, the distinct lack of obvious beat-combo elements (bass, drums, electric guitars, percussion) an added attraction to this power-chord weary listener. 'Beet, Maize & Corn' is as rich a tapestry of gentle piano, nylon strings, tipsy brass & bowed sadness as you'll find this side of the 20th Century. Outstanding.
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