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THE HIGH LLAMAS
Talahomi Way
Drag City
Format: CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: April 19, 2011
By Michael Snyder July 7, 2011

Talahomi Way is one of The High Llamas’ most gentle albums, which is saying something. Their ninth studio album, it is meticulously crafted and orchestrated to realize their vision, informed by a rich knowledge of pop history. That The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan finds great inspiration from Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys is axiomatic, but this particular record seems to focus on (among other influences, including Brazilian ones) the quirky and understated 1968 soft-pop album Friends (Capitol, 1968), which was a commercial failure at the time of its release, deemed irrelevant by many amidst assassinations and anti-war protests.  This emphasis on Friends is blended with the long-running influence of the much more well-known classic Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966) and material from the unfinished Smile album.  A few of Talahomi Way’s tracks are reminiscent of The High Llamas’ fantastic Hawaii album (V2, 1996), a fan favorite.

Opener “Berry Adams,” with its harpsichord, analogue synth, vibraphone, a familiar string arrangement, and light male vocals, is a winning slice of retro soft-pop.  “Wander, Jack Wander” is a pleasant retro-lounge instrumental with vibraphone, mellow organ, and strings.  “The Ring of Gold” entrances with repeating figures and rapid alternating notes executed by the strings. Brian Wilson’s collaborator Van Dyke Parks, the Curt Boettcher-produced projects Sagittarius and The Millennium, Harper’s Bizarre, The Association, and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band are some names that 1960s pop and soft-psych aficionados may think of while listening to the lovely Talahomi Way.

With this sunshine sound, The High Llamas blend little touches of 1950s lounge or exotica artists such as Martin Denny. The Boo Radleys’ quietest moments and the pastoral solo album by their singer Sice using the handle Eggman, First Fruits (Creation, 1996), may come to mind, along with studio-wizard classic rockers Steely Dan. The jaunty “Fly, Baby, Fly” evokes an image of The Four Seasons produced by Brian Wilson, while the brief, space-age “Angel Connector” recalls their remix album Lollo Rosso (V2, 1998). “A Rock in May” is a colorful slice of Van Dyke Parks-style Americana, while “Take My Hand” and “Woven and Rolled” incorporate elements of classic Brazilian pop and bossa nova.

Really the only conceivable complaint about Talahomi Way might be that it has been four years since the last High Llamas album, and we may desire more than 33-minutes of new Llamas, even if there are 11 tracks.  Every minute of this record, however, is carefully crafted and produced, and it’s better to leave the listener wanting more than feeling over-satiated. Talahomi Way is very nice, clearly an aesthetic success, and intriguing in its use of pastiche and carefully arranged sonic details.

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