Over their fifteen-year tenure, The High Llamas have written some of the most richly constructed and oddly affecting pop music since The Beach Boys' disarmingly humble pop fantasias on Friends and Surf's Up, or the post-Tropicalia sweetness and modernist impulses of Brazilian artists like Marcos Valle, Joyce, Milton Nascimento and Lo Bôrges. The group have also drawn on 1950s pop arrangements, English jazz and Canterbury prog, 1970s singer-songwriters, German electronica, Italian soundtrack music, French pop and American post-rock to create a self-styled universe where songs are pliable, mutable sculptures.
It's an approach to the song - as conduit for shared experience, as an access moment for community - that resonates with O'Hagan's own writing: his dream of an egalitarian song that rings true, a benign, generous and unpretentious song that collapses the false divide between experiment and accessibility. "Your instinct leads you to write in a way which satisfies your artistic intentions and if you are strong you stick to your guns. If the high street likes your music, so be it. If the avant-garde embrace you, so be it, just as long as they do not abuse a non-believer for not being on message." O'Hagan pauses before concluding, with a gentle nod, "It's the music and not the lifestyle that is important."
Originally published in Signal To Noise #45, Spring 2007. With thanks to editor Pete Gershon for granting permission for this republication.