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December 17 - 24, 1999

[Music Reviews]

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*** High Llamas



Snowbug is warmer and more substantial than you might expect from an outfit that called its last album Cold and Bouncy. Since their seminal Gideon Gaye, Sean O'Hagan's High Llamas have flaunted a quirky Beach Boys fetish that Brian Wilson cultists may appreciate but that has rendered much of the band's material too precious and stylized. Snowbug, however, sounds less like the bastard son of Pet Sounds and more like a touchy-feely cousin of Stereolab's 1997 album Dots and Loops (to which O'Hagan contributed instrumental arrangements). O'Hagan seems intent less on paying tribute to Brian Wilson's mad genius than on establishing his own voice as an obsessive pop savant. More than ever, he's trusting his own instincts, especially on the buoyant, catchy "Cookie Bay," where sophisticated vocal harmonies are supported by a strange brew of plucked banjos, backward cymbal crashes, and synthetic marimbas. The disc's reliance on the electro-organic sound of analog synths gives each song a similar retro-futurist feel, but it's one that belongs to O'Hagan, not to the past.

-- Jared White
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