Music

The High Llamas: Here Come the Rattling Trees

Life in the town portrayed in Here Come the Rattling Trees continues as it has, with little change, much like the High Llamas’ music. This can be comforting, but also a little dull.


The High Llamas

Here Come the Rattling Trees

Label: Drag City
US Release Date: 2016-01-22
UK Release Date: 2016-01-22
Amazon
iTunes

Sean O’Hagan’s High Llamas have always trafficked in idyllic fantasyland soundscapes; a land mapped out via the sunny day audio real estate and romance of the Beach Boys and Bossa Nova, as well as lush Euro electronica and all through a very British filter.

With their latest project, Here Come the Rattling Trees, O’Hagan and his Llamas haven’t altered their sound much, but this time the songs are collected into a cohesive concept album of sorts. A soundtrack to a play of the same name that O’Hagan wrote and launched in 2014. This isn’t the first time he’s attempted an overarching narrative in his music. Hawaii explored, albeit in a rather abstract way, tourism and colonialism, and he’s also worked on the music for films by French director Marc Fitoussi. In fact, Rattling Trees feels a lot like the songs composed (with Stereolab’s Tim Gane) for Fitoussi’s La Vie d’Artiste, relaxed and melodic, like a day dreaming afternoon in a leafy city park.

The Rattling Trees play was about a woman named Amy, “an unsettled 28-year-old with a desire to travel”, living in the south London area of Peckham, and a small cast of characters she meets in the town square there. The play, and by extension the soundtrack, portrays the changing times in this small microcosm of England, and paint a picture of daily life there.

Looking back, pastiches of everyday British life are not uncommon in pop music, from the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” and the Kinks’ Are the Village Green Preservation Society up through XTC’s Skylarking and beyond. With the music divorced from the play’s visuals, it takes attentive listening to clue in that the High Llamas are attempting something similar here. To be fair, part of that’s due to a predominance of instrumentals. Over the course of 16 fairly short songs, only six include lyrics; most of which are non-specific. Take, for example, “Here come the rattling trees / Don’t mention my name / Don’t mention my name”, lyrics which wouldn’t be out of place in a death metal or gothic rock song.

The songs on Rattling Trees, however, are light and gentle, wistful and pensive, feathery even. Electro-acoustic chamber pop, decked out with nylon string guitars and synth murmurs, is the currency here. For a band who’s been perfecting this style for over 25 years and whose website bio proclaims they were formed “in opposition to the dull grunge obsessed UK and US orthodoxy of the early '90s”, they’ve honed it to a masterful, if at times samey perfection. And, though the play’s main character is described as “unsettled”, there’s absolutely no tension in this music. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that, but unfortunately the songs (with the exception of the title song and “Jackie”) aren’t very memorable. Perhaps combined with the visuals they were composed for, they’d succeed more, but instead it comes off as a lesser work in the band’s catalog. Not a bad work, by any means, just not as rewarding as earlier High Llamas albums.

“Yellow is the shirt she wore / yellow like the day before," O’Hagan sings in “Jackie”. Life in the town portrayed in Rattling Trees continues as it has, with little change, much like the High Llamas’ music. This can be comforting, but also a little dull.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

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.