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Can Cladders

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Album Review

Sean O'Hagan and the High Llamas have been accused of emulating everyone from Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach to Steely Dan and Brian Wilson, along with Brian Wilson, as well as Brian Wilson (with a healthy dash of Brian Wilson in there too, for good measure). Really, it's ridiculous, but what's the harm that a few myopic reviewers can't say anything more telling than "Sean's a Brian Wilson clone"? It's a darn high compliment, given the stature Wilson has achieved, and says more about those music critics' inability to see beyond their own "Top Ten albums of all time" than any creative shortcomings on O'Hagan's part. Get off it! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. If gorgeous arrangements, unusual instrumentation and innocent wit make you Brian Wilson then why doesn't Neil Hannon, Rufus Wainwright (hell...he's even got Van Dyke Parks on his records) and a host of other gorgeously arranged artists get pegged as Wilson wannabes? Could it be that O'Hagan is simply at the top of the heap — that he's the pinnacle? Could he be (gulp) as good as Brian Wilson??!!?! He just might be, thank you very much. Pet Sounds, SMiLE and a scant handful of other prime Wilson works, verses O'Hagan and his ten-plus albums of exquisite beauty and detail could sway the (utterly preposterous and fictional) battle right there. But it is precisely O'Hagan's prolific nature that seems to irk his detractors most. "How can this guy keep cranking out these fab records?" (If four years between some albums can be referred to as "cranking it out") or "he's just coasting." Not likely — but if he is, he's doing so marvelously.

Over the course of their career, the High Llamas successfully combined '60s pop sensibilities with burbling analog synth accents and laid-back, West Coast vibes with a NYC session cat's journeyman aesthetic. Every Llamas album has embraced these creative styles in varying degrees: from Gideon Gaye's decidedly '60s Brit-pop bent, to Hawaii's sprawling and breezy beaches, to Cold and Bouncy's warmly clinical brand of slickness, to Beet, Maize & Corn's detailed chamber pop, the Llamas have succeeded at every slight stylistic turn they have taken. Now, with 2007's Can Cladders, O'Hagan and the Llamas are bringing it all together. Every stylistic element that has ever graced the grooves of their past albums is present here, with synth blurbs and Baroque-via-the-beach string arrangements holding equal footing throughout. Bacharach-ian backing vocals and Wilson-esque instrumentation hold equal ground with Motown rhythms and Steely Dan slick-ery, but the whole thing sounds natural and familiar, rather than over-thought, forced and derivative. Four years in the making, Can Cladders could have come off the presses as an indulgent, overwrought opus. Instead, it simply (but oh-so-craftily) distilled a career's worth of creative tangents into one solid, focused effort that, if you're observant enough, holds its own amongst the likes of the Llamas' comparative "elite." ~ J. Scott McClintock, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Don't acquire this taste!

So the High Llamas are an acquired taste and this is exactly the point. They are every hearer’s private custom. Can Cladders is clever beautiful music, thought-out and textured for a thousand listens, and still you hear something new. Can Cladders gained a star for me when I heard them live in London in April 2007: banjo, xylophone, 12-string guitar, sleigh bells, all the pet sounds ringing through, and Old Spring Town, Sailing Bells, and Honeytrop blended organically with earlier tunes. Sean O’Hagen is building something important here. His music is irrational and logical, exuberant and sad, durable and profoundly fragile, full of the same dreams and contradictions as the people who absorb it so completely.

Still Good

I like this,as I have liked all past stuff.It is an aquired taste,but once aquired,repays well.

What did you expect?

1 and a half stars?, cant believe that!!, I think this band deserves a little better, ok so its not Hawaii or Gideon Gaye but its still a lovely composition in my opinion.Im giving it 4 stars just to bump the score!!.


Formed: 1991 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Although the High Llamas are nominally a group, they're pretty much the brainchild of singer and guitarist Sean O'Hagan. O'Hagan did some time in the London-by-way-of-Dublin band Microdisney, in which he was the songwriting partner of Cathal Coughlan. After Microdisney split in 1988 (Coughlan forming Fatima Mansions), O'Hagan released a couple of import-only solo albums before forming the High Llamas. The Llamas issued their debut, Gideon Gaye, in 1994 to high praise in the British press; it was...
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