The High Llamas are best described as a warm comforting hug for the ears. Time and time again Sean O’Hagen brings together influences from early American pop and folk, Brazilian jazz and bossa nova, post Beach Boys Brian Wilson, film scores and avant-garde electronica. To form the delicious baroque lounge sound of The High Llamas. Formed in 1991, I first came across their 2003 album Beet, Maize & Corn, a stark contrast from their earlier efforts with electronic keyboards and effects taking centre stage in place of the usual brass and string dominated sound, but still an utter musical masterpiece which has made me obsessed with thier sound.

Having become ever more infrequent with album releases, Here Come The Rattling Trees is album number eleven and arose a few years ago when Sean decided new High Llamas music would be a collection of stories that would be first performed as theatre – mixing songs, stories and soundtracks that would be performed before they were recorded. This culminated in a concept album of sorts centring around an unsettled 28 year-old Amy and her encounters with the five other characters, who tell their own stories of hope, ambition and disappointments.

There is no mistaking the blissfully sedated soundscapes of quaint lounging melodies and the idyllic harmonies which have become so instantly familiar as The High Llamas, and Here Come The Rattling Trees is no different. The sunny simplicity to the mostly drumless compositions (opting for light percussion instead) only adds to the lush intoxicating sounds of organs, harpsichords, vibraphones and nylon-string guitars that dominate the insulant mood to the tracks.

You could be mistaken for initially thinking that sixteen predominantly short tracks over a 28 minute duration would come across as patchy or lacking in substance but the album completely holds its own. Although the problem with only having six songs with lyrics, it is hard to follow the albums narrative, all being very non-specific. For instance, “Here come the rattling trees / Don’t mention my name / Don’t mention my name” could be taken from a fanciful flower-powered psych song from the 60s. Perhaps a brief monologue, preceding or following some of the tracks, as brilliantly done on the fantastic soundtrack to Dingo by Miles Davis & Michel Legrand – would have mapped out the albums story better.

Here Come The Rattling Trees is better perceived as a soundtrack than an album with only the truly exquisite titel track and the closing track ‘Jackie’ lasting over the 3 minute mark. Still, The High Llamas have produced yet another gorgeous album that is sure to give any listening ear a pleasant refuge from this genuinely grey and wet time of year.
Iain Lauder