No one approaches a new High Llamas album asking "I wonder what’s this one going to sound like?" The question is not "Will there be banjo, vibes and strings" but "how much banjo, vibes and strings will there be?"
Sean O’Hagan works from a very specific palate but he always paints a pretty picture. Of course, the Brian Wilson influence is inescapable but at this point the High Llamas sound only like themselves. Nothing is likely to top 1994’s Gideon Gaye (Hawaii was close) for me, but I’ve enjoyed all their albums.
Can Cladders is the High Llamas’ sixth full-length (seventh if you count mini-LP Santa Barbra) and as always, there are some truly lovely moments. It is a peppier affair than the exceedingly gentle Beet, Maize and Corn, with female vocals playing a larger role than on any other album. You could even call some of it soulful. O’Hagan is such a skilled, distinctive arranger, his strings and horns never tire on the ears.
Can Cladders is out February 13 — in the UK for sure, not positive about America. O’Hagan also provides amazing string arrangements to Gruff Rhrys’ excellent new solo album.