When former Microdisney member Sean O’Hagan started the High Llamas in the early 1990s it was a pretty safe bet that Brian Wilson wasn’t going to be releasing any good records any time soon. So he set about releasing a set of acclaimed albums that openly borrowed the classic sound of post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys. The albums may be released less frequently (averaging every four years now) but Talahomi Way doesn’t stray far from the blueprint.
On my first few listens I was unimpressed, the arrangements were nice enough but the airy feel and Beach Boys impressions just didn’t seem enough. A week or so later I tried again, by this time the weather had changed and the sun was shining brightly, this time it all seemed to make sense and I loved how bright it sounded.
Listening to this album with a positive attitude makes a real difference. It is light and airy music for sure, but there are a couple of key facts that make it worth a listen; 1. there isn’t another act that does the Brian Wilson this well. 2. There are few people around who arrange instruments as beautifully as this.
And, it is this instrumentation that makes the difference. Listening to the opening track, ‘Barry Adams’, you hear Brian Wilson but with subtle additions that make a difference. The strings that come and go through the track, the Stereolab style keyboard breaks (Tim Gane from that band was involved in the album) that add a little extra depth to the sound. O’Hagan has arranged for Stereolab several times and many of the tracks here have a kitsch 60s lounge feel that recalls the band circa ‘Dots and Loops’, not a massive leap from the template but an indicator that O’Hagan is interested in more than just aping Pet Sounds.
The largely instrumental ‘Talahomi Way’ adds more classic 60s sounds to the album, recalling most of all John Barry’s soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy. ‘Angel Connector’, another instrumental, breaks from the pattern more radically and brings Cornelius to mind, another of O’Hagan’s past collaborators.
The rest of the album follows the same pattern, a smattering of instrumentals, some cool 60s sounds and the classic Beach Boys sound that O’Hagan clearly genuinely loves. It really is a lovely way to spend 40 minutes of your time and the more you listen the more you hear, the instrumental touches are of such a high calibre that it is no surprise that the bands output is so infrequent.
8/10 (7/10 on a dull or rainy day)
By Dorian Rogers