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The High Llamas - Hey Panda (Drag City)

27 March 2024

Since the band’s nineties debut, the High Llamas have been known for their exquisitely crafted, sixties/seventies-inspired orchestral pop. Despite additional dollops of electronica, motorik, British folks, and other influences, the blissfully constructed tunes from singer/songwriter Sean O’Hagan remain the heart of the Llamas’ art. That’s still the case with Hey Panda, O’Hagan’s first Llamas record in eight years. But this album sounds quite a bit different than previous platters. The tracks come soaked in electronica touches formerly used as texture, and it’s not the synthwaves from the seventies and eighties, either. Instead O’Hagan draws from twenty-first century digital production, citing everyone from J. Dilla to Fryars to Rae Morris (who guests here) as influences, with smatterings of trap beats, glitch pop, and even autotune buzzing in the foreground. That doesn’t mean there aren’t prominently featured acoustic guitars, pop melodies, and O’Hagan’s beautifully plainspoken singing – cf. “The Hungriest Man” and “How the Best Was Won.” But the whizzes, beats, and shine gives other tunes like “The Grade,” “Sister Friends,” and the title track their own timeless flair that rewards ardent listening. Some of the geegaws may be off-putting at first spin, but time spent reveals a High Llamas album to rival their best.