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The High Llamas

by David Greenberger on May 11, 2011

Sean O’Hagan’s High Llamas are back after a four-year absence (during which time O’Hagan kept busy with numerous other projects). This is a world built upon the traditions of Van Dyke Parks, Burt Bacharach and even Ferde Grofe.

As with previous releases by the High Llamas, Talahomi Way flows like a full and complete album experience. One song gives way to another with suitelike sympathy and logic. There’s a sweep to the work in total, as well as the dozen individual songs that manage to be at once both emotional and mathematical. Never cloying, the melodies evoke familiarity and also are able to surprise. O’Hagan’s orchestral sensibilities allow horns and strings to mingle easily with traditional rock band instruments, especially since the latter are deployed for their sonics rather than any posturing.

The lyrics convey a wistfulness free of any overt narrative, poetic snapshots that resonate within the measures to which they are wedded. Case in point, “Back to the Abbey” is clearly about a place and circumstances that are offered up in the first person, but the singer’s “we” becomes the listener’s “I” and one can’t help but drift off on the circling melody as violins trade phrases with marimba. If property were for sale in the aural land of Talahomi Way, this is where to build your cottage.