Can Cladders

Signal To Noise

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.

The High Llamas: Can Cladders

It remains slightly damning that bands like The High Llamas—the ones that draw on limited, recognizable influences—generally aren't as adventurous or inspired as the musicians they favor. But by this point, The High Llamas' version of resort-chic-pop has become almost idiosyncratically their own. And it helps that Can Cladders gets through 13 songs in just under 40 minutes, with no waste and no excess. It's not a grand departure, just the best album yet by one of the modern-rock era's most loveable bands.

Pitchfork Review

What clearly sets the High Llamas apart, however, is O'Hagan's tendency toward retro-futurism, which results in the unique confluence of string quartets with hi-fi lounge-pop instrumentation (organ, vibraphone, clarinet), occasionally drifting toward exotica, the late-50s big band- and Latin-influenced instrumental music that attempted to evoke lush, tropical, and faraway imagined lands. The danger of this approach, of course, is that High Llamas songs are often (especially lately) overburdened, with excessive ingredients outweighing songcraft. Thankfully, Cladders avoids this crutch, and consequently emerges as the most enjoyable High Llamas record in over a decade.

AllMusic Review

Four years in the making, Can Cladders could have come off the presses as an indulgent, overwrought opus. Instead, it simply (but oh-so-craftily) distilled a career's worth of creative tangents into one solid, focused effort that, if you're observant enough, holds its own amongst the likes of the Llamas' comparative "elite."