Music

High Llamas: Talahomi Way

Talahomi Way, with High Llama Sean O'Hagan and cohorts as your guides, is a thoroughly pleasant place to visit. But live there?


High Llamas

Talahomi Way

Label: Drag City
US Release Date: 2011-04-19
UK Release Date: 2011-04-11
Amazon
iTunes

This might perhaps be not so much a critique as an apology. You see, I genuinely wanted to like this disc more than I do.

Sean O’Hagan -- for all intents, the mastermind behind the High Llamas -- has been someone whose work was always worth making time for. That he was a potentially major art-pop talent was evident all the way back to his days as composer and co-founder of (with singer/lyricist/force of nature Cathal Coughlan) '80s Irish pop subversives Microdisney. O’Hagan’s butter cream-smooth melodies effectively turned FM soft-rock clichés on their blow-dried heads, all the better to place Coughlan’s classic Irish baritone and barbed, satirical observations in even higher relief.

When this volatile collaboration’s inevitable splintering came, Coughlan dove full-on into the musical aggression of Fatima Mansions; O’Hagan, for his part, chose to pursue his sophisto-pop leanings into ever lusher orchestral pastures. His High Llamas discs, most notably 1994’s Gideon Gaye and Hawaii two years later, were among the most adventurous pop creations to see the light of that decade.

Loaded with complex, sumptuously sung and arranged pop sound scapes, the Llamas discs saw O’Hagan being rightly thought of as a rival to acknowledged heroes Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (individually and collectively). He was even approached by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys after Hawaii’s release, to oversee a proposed reconvening with Brian Wilson: a delightful notion that sadly went nowhere.

So after a few years of being perhaps regrettably out of the High Llamas orbit, we find ourselves touching down at Talahomi Way, and right from opening track "Berry Adams", it’s obvious not much has changed within the Llamas' artistic biosphere.

O'Hagan's gift for airy, breezy, practically sun-dappled melodies, like the wispy and wondrous "Fly Baby Fly", remains steady. His deft deployment of easily swinging horns, genteel strings, percussion exotica and languid keyboard pads (with the odd synthetic burble and blip), likewise maintain an effortless and maximally relaxed atmosphere. It flows and ebbs. It pleasantly sways like so many aural palm fronds.

And therein lies my problem with Talahomi Way. An overall mood of sub-tropical Pacific torpor (albeit well conveyed and executed) does get a mite soporific over the course of an album, or a handful of them, or a career‘s worth. I’ve never had a problem with being taken on a pleasant aural vacation, but to live in the eternal resort hotel lobby frequently referenced in the Llamas songs? Well, that’s a different matter.

And while extending fair play to O’Hagan -- his is a niche he clearly has toiled at and can present with the best of them -- there is, after all, an infinitesimally fine line between a groove and a rut.

In the end, Talahomi Way is no egregious failure, for O’Hagan at even his less-then-best can beat most pop toilers' top-quality creations. But for the sake of future success, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for this gent Bruce Johnston once praised as "The Highest of High Llamas" to come down from that mountain more often. All the better to take in a little less rarefied and more varied inspiration.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.