Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and arranger Sean O'Hagan founded his first significant band in Cork, Ireland, in the early '80s. Along with songwriting partner Cathal Coughlan and an ever revolving group of musicians, that band, Microdisney, achieved admirable U.K. popularity with their literate and often politically tinged brand of indie pop. After relocating to London in 1982, Microdisney continued to release albums that were critically acclaimed (but not big movers in the record stores) until late 1988, when the group disbanded. Coughlan went on to form the Fatima Mansions, while O'Hagan channeled his creative energies into his own solo project. O'Hagan's debut solo album, High Llamas, didn't cause much of a stir when it was released in 1990, but the Beach Boys-inspired instrumentation (and general West Coast smoothness) of the record gave a glimpse into where things were headed. O'Hagan formed the High Llamas, soon after his same-named solo effort, as a vehicle to indulge his baroque pop/Beach Boys/electronic interests, and released their first album, Santa Barbara, in 1992.
Also during this time, O'Hagan took up with electronic lounge purveyors Stereolab, remaining with the band as a full-time member until the release of 1994's Mars Audiac Quintet, but continuing to guest on subsequent releases. The collaboration went both ways, with Stereolab's Mary Hansen guesting on the High Llamas' 1999 album Snowbug as well as 2000's Buzzle Bee. O'Hagan also collaborated with Stereolab founder Tim Gane (on their one-off side project Turn On from 1996) and continued to spread the creativity around by working with Will Oldham's group Palace Songs, Japanese electronic wizard Cornelius, and a host of other notable artists throughout the late '90s. In 2003, the Llamas' seventh album, Beet, Maize & Corn, delighted critics with its almost exclusive use of string, brass, and woodwind arrangements -- elements that would carry over (but not dominate) their exquisite early-2007 effort, Can Cladders. Toward the end of that year, Gane and O'Hagan collaborated a second time for the soundtrack to the French comedy La Vie d'Artiste. ~ J. Scott McClintock