Middle-aged nerds rejoice! Everyone else, listen up: this is a bloody great booking from Swn. Much has been made of Sean O’Hagan’s lovingly crafted paeans to Brian Wilson’s ornate late 60s Beach Boys recordings, but in reality the High Llamas have absorbed numerous influences into a house style that rewards close attention; refracting shards of Tropicalia, lounge, library music, electronica and 1950s close harmony pop back to the listener. O’Hagan has a meticulous, musicologist’s touch reflecting a lengthy career as an in-demand producer and arranger, and at times songs have appeared almost pinned and labelled with a collector’s dedication, acknowledging debts to genres or particular influences.
That’s not to say they’re merely dry exercises, though; the swooning Van Dyke Parks strings of Hawaii, the burbling synths and twinkling syncopation of Cold And Bouncy and Snowbug recalling his parallel work with Stereolab and the open-windows springtime pop of this year’s Talahomi Way all offer some of the most beautifully crafted music these isles have offered in the last fifteen years. While the songwriting often seems secondary to the overarching mood, O’Hagan’s best work essays wry commentary on social and generational change, coming off like a seasoned traveller noting patterns in the varying surroundings conjured by his music. The band play very rarely these days, so this is an opportunity not to be missed; fans of Brian Wilson, Stereolab, The Sea & Cake, late-period XTC and timeless, exploratory pop songwriting should lap it up.
If there’s ever been a support band whose musical outlook dovetailed more perfectly with the headliner than SPENCER MCGARRY SEASON do here, I’d be surprised. Fronted by a well-read music theorist with a thirst for experimentation and a love for the Beach Boys, Jim O’Rourke and Steve Reich, produced by former High Llamas collaborator (and SMS bassist) Charlie Francis, meticulous arranger; this is McGarry’s gig. It’s a slight shame that the full strings & brass 12-piece majesty won’t be present (space, time and budgets mean that a pared-down piano and vocal version of the band will perform) but the complex, witty, literate wonders of the epic Episode 2 album will remain, alongside previews of its electronica-based follow-up. Pretty much unmissable.
Date: Saturday – May 21, 2011 – 08:30 PM
Location: The Globe – Cardiff – £13
Doors Open 7:30 PM
THE HIGH LLAMAS
SPENCER McGARRY SEASON
ZERVAS & PEPPER