Release Date: Jan 22, 2016
Record label: Drag City
Here Come The Rattling Trees is the first music released under The High Llamas name in five years but wasn’t originally conceived as an album in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a series of short, interlinked musical narratives centred around the south-east London enclave of Peckham and its inhabitants. One of those people is The High Llamas’ front man and major creative force Sean O’Hagan, and he puts his experiences of living in the area to direct use on the band’s latest album.
Grandly subtitled “from the original stage production” – but with good reason, as anyone who attended the 2014 Tristan Bates Theatre shows will attest – Here Come The Rattling Trees is further defined-stroke-obfuscated as “a musical narrative… deployed to transport the listener to the low-key ups and downs of the British working week”. As such, the album represents a loose salute to real and chimerical figures from lead Llama Sean O’Hagan’s Peckham neighbourhood; and, not to decry the community in question, its denizens may wonder what it has done to deserve such a sweetly enraptured love letter. Wryly observant character studies are linked by wistfully understated instrumental interludes, with harpsichord, vibes, nylon-strung guitar and single-finger organ tumbling contentedly against each other like smalls in a twin-tub.
Sean O’Hagan has made a career out of charming, densely arranged music that borrows and builds upon the past. With the High Llamas, inspiration has taken on many forms since their 1990 inception. Never before, though, has O’Hagan’s output required such equal involvement from its audience as it has on the band’s 12th studio album, Here Come the Rattling Trees.
After a career spent making albums that felt like soundtracks, filled with repeating motifs, cinematic banjos, and the kind of cheerful, wistful melodies it was easy to envision someone cuddly like Kermit the Frog or Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivering, Sean O'Hagan and his High Llamas finally broke down in 2014 and wrote a musical of sorts. Inspired by O'Hagan's bicycle rides around his neck of the woods in Southeast London, Here Come the Rattling Trees is a loosely shaped narrative telling the stories of people real and imagined set to some typically sweet and deceptively simple musical backing. The main motif is a chiming bit of sunshine pop featuring harpisichord-esque acoustic guitar plucking and a staccato bassline that would have made Brian Wilson happy.
Here Come the Rattling Trees, the 11th studio album by baroque pop ensemble the High Llamas, exists as a means to an end. As the cover says, the music on this short and sweet LP was written by the group’s leader and principal songwriter Sean O’Hagan to accompany a theater production of the same name, with the brief interludes and tunes meant to be woven between monologues by the play’s six characters. Initially presented in October of 2014 at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s Covent Garden, the intention is to eventually take the show on a tour through Europe and the U.S.
A Coliseum Complex Museum is the Besnard Lakes' first record since 2013's Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO. They don't deviate too much from the latter record's tried and true formula on this latest effort; it's a wall-to-wall psychedelic bliss-out, featuring eight tracks stuffed to the rafters with dense instrumentation and the lush harmonies of husband and wife team Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Recorded at the band's own Breakglass Studios, A Coliseum Complex Museum is a real headphones record; a close listen allows the complex and multi-layered instrumentation to fully shine through.
Sean O’Hagan’s High Llamas have always trafficked in idyllic fantasyland soundscapes; a land mapped out via the sunny day audio real estate and romance of the Beach Boys and Bossa Nova, as well as lush Euro electronica and all through a very British filter. With their latest project, Here Come the Rattling Trees, O’Hagan and his Llamas haven’t altered their sound much, but this time the songs are collected into a cohesive concept album of sorts. A soundtrack to a play of the same name that O’Hagan wrote and launched in 2014.
Somehow someway, Sean O’Hagan’s songwriting continues to grow ever more breezy and elegant with each passing release. The High Llamas’ latest, Here Come the Rattling Trees, is an unhurried and observant highlight among his output of recent years. Now that O’Hagan and his baroque indie pop cohort are thirteen albums deep, it’s a couple spins shy of disorienting to revisit the Crowded House-isms of their 1992 breakthrough, Santa Barbara.