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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… The High Llama’s – Gideon Gaye October 25, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Six or seven years of This Weekends and there’s still so many groups that haven’t been covered. Here’s an album I’ve long meant to discuss, The High Llama’s – that being Sean O’Hagan formerly of Microdisney with a group of friends, and their album Gideon Gaye from 1994. Emerging from the – at this remove – slow demise of Microdisney, a group who have been dealt with previously in this spot, O’Hagan took quite a while to get going (there was a solo album credited to O’Hagan which is now regarded as their first on e released in 1990 which would make Gideon Gaye their third release, though that seems like retrofitting) in contrast to his former Microdisney comrade Cathal Coughlan who had the Fatima Mansions seemingly ready to roll almost immediately.

And that contrast between them is only heightened by the different natures of their solo enterprises. Where Coughlan is all sturm und drang, nodding to punk, hardcore, and whatever in his bid to weld together a genuinely ferocious vehicle with which to express his worldview that of O’Hagan is almost the polar opposite, melodic, soft, an overt hommage to the Beach Boys of the Smile era.

If the intention is to offer us a sunny world where textures are as important, no, more important than melodies – for there’s little question but there’s an ambient drift here, it works perfectly. Checking In, Checking Out is west coast personified, but it’s better, shorn of all nonsense that accompanied that genre (and to my ears there’s an oddly krautrock inflection to the piano as it chugs past – and that makes sense given his work with and almost de facto membership of Stereolab during this period). Sure, it’s no stranger to the baroque, Track Goes By lavishes the listener with a not-entirely necessary, but far from unwelcome, ten minutes. The Goat Looks on is all lavish swoops and dips.

And yet, and yet.

Is that a hint of the Seeds “Up In Her Room” in the background of Giddy and Gay? And isn’t there something, well, just a little demented in those sweeping strings? Where exactly is O’Hagan taking the listener?

The effect can be both smooth and oddly claustrophobic – this is a seamless vision of the world and like all such personal visions it can exclude more than it intends to keep in.

And what of the lyrics? Is Checking In, Checking Out seems to be a reflection on LA…

if funny looks don’t get you down,
you could get on in this town.
the drivers crawl along the curb.
the thought of walking’s quite absurd,

But is it partly autobiographical? And what of this from Track Goes By?

now country music at this time of day
can make the future seem so far away.
though the trade was slow, the cabby knew more
than he let her know.

Granted, O’Hagan’s voice is an acquired taste. I like it but I’d be the first to admit that it can be a little weak. But the compositions are artfully crafted to conceal that for the most part – and the fact that vocals are few and far between with instrumentals predominating doesn’t hurt.

It’s worth saying that none of this is a huge step away from Microdisney. I always admired – actually, perhaps loved isn’t too strong a word – the way in which the anger of Coughlan’s vision was set against the Steely Dan/countryish inflected melodicism of O’Hagan’s guitars. The thing is that O’Hagan brought a punk/new wave economy that in its own way was as subversive of the music as was the vocal and lyrical content:

This from, Goodbye, It’s 1987 is a perfect example of same with it’s musical arrangement.

The High Llama’s next album, Hawaii is pretty damned impressive too, they toured as Arthur Lee’s backing band for some of the 1990s and they’re still going, last album released just three years ago. I like that.

Up in the Hills

Checking In, Checking Out

The Goat Looks On

The Goat Strings

Track Goes By


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