On Second Thought: The High Llamas – Talahomi Way (2011)

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Full Disclosure: At a secret council convened by the Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission and the Order of the Golden Dawn, it was decreed that all critics writing about the High Llamas must reference Brian Wilson at least twice.

I fear I’ve said too much already.

Anyway, I must confess that I’ve never been a big fan of Brian or the Beach Boys. While I appreciate their artistry, their music leaves me cold. This posed a problem when assessing High Llama Sean O’Hagan’s 2011 release Talahomi Way, since the LP’s main discernable influences are bachelor-pad easy listening, jet-setting ’60s soundtracks, Burt Bacharach and yes, Brian Wilson. (There! I got my two BW references in.)

It had been four years since 2007’s Can Cladders and O’Hagan seemed to have used that time to come up with, well, more of the same. But the same in this case ended up as a varied lot indeed. In addition to the aforementioned influences, Talahomi Way also invokes soft psych pop, Steely Dan slickness and an English pastoralism reminiscent of XTC at their coziest and most hermetically sealed.

The album is a slightly airless, artificial pastiche, but that doesn’t mean it’s not any fun. A bossa nova rhythm kicks off “Take My Hand,” before giving way to quirky clip-clopping percussion and R2-D2 blips and beeps. Hit-and-run Nino Rota strings sweep into “Woven and Rolled” to drown out everything including vocals. With its refrain “We’re hungry and we’re tired” sitting unsteadily atop syrupy strings and harmonica, “Rock in May” invokes Henry Mancini on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

On “The Ring of Gold.” faux oriental orchestrations by way of Martin Denny, give way to yearning psych pop by way of Martin Newell. Here O’Hagan gives his best vocal performance, sweet and slightly fragile, stripped of his usual Brian Wilson harmonies. (Bonus BW reference!)

A lot of this is catchy as hell, even when it seems to be chasing its own tail. The songs are frequently calming, sometimes jaunty, but always wrapped in plastic. For all its beauty, though, Talahomi Way is still vaguely uneasy listening — like Brian and Bacharach brought to you by cylons.

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Patrick Moran

Patrick Moran

Chicago native Pat Moran is a filmmaker who has produced and written five feature films, and served as producer and editor for Western Classics, a film series hosted by actor James Best. He also writes about music for Creative Loafing Charlotte. The best job title he ever had was "part-time vampire." Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Patrick Moran
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