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Retrospective Rarities & Instrumentals

The High Llamas

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Album Review

Retrospective, Rarities & Instrumentals is a double-disc summation of the High Llamas' recordings for V2 (and two early records that V2 bought the rights to). The first disc is a collection of 16 songs from the Llamas albums: two tracks from 1992's Santa Barbara, three from 1995's Gideon Gaye, four from 1996's Hawaii, three from 1998's Cold & Bouncy, and four from 1999's Snowbug. The sequence of tracks is quite stunning. Many critics wrote the band off as mere Beach Boys copyists whose albums all sounded exactly the same, but hearing their best songs back to back, one can see they wrote a lot of killer melodies and while the songs are all based on the same template — soaring strings, smooth harmony-laden background vocals, chamber pop accouterments like vibraphones and bells, Sean O'Hagan's honest and sweet voice, and a classic feel for melody — there are enough differences to be found from track to track to make this disc a standout. It is fun to see how the early, relatively stripped-down sound of "Apricots" or "Holland" from their first album progresses to the lush, majestic sound of "Nomads" from Hawaii to the intricately arranged and easy listening-influenced sound of "Bach Ze" from Snowbug. Disc two collects 14 B-sides and songs that were bonus tracks on Japanese or U.S. editions of the albums. Three of the songs come from the limited-edition bonus disc that came with Hawaii, including one of O'Hagan's best songs, the arch and lovely "It Might as Well Be Dumbo." The rest of the tracks are a mix of space-age instrumentals and bouncy pop. The rarest track is the previously unreleased "Vampo Brazil," which was recorded for Cold & Bouncy but didn't make the final cut. This is a disc that fans will find to be a real treat, though not as essential as the first disc. Retrospective, Rarities & Instrumentals is the definitive High Llamas record. It makes a strong case for them as one of the best pop bands of the 1990s and is a heck of a lot of fun to listen to also.

Biography

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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Retrospective Rarities & Instrumentals, The High Llamas
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