Sean O'Hagan

Radum Calls, Radum Calls

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

Over the course of almost 30 years, Sean O'Hagan guided the High Llamas through a series of albums that established, then stretched and morphed, a sunshiny chamber pop sound that relied on elements both exceedingly organic and coaxed from machines. Radum Calls, Radum Calls is his first album since 1991 to bear his own name, and it's not very different from what people have come to expect from the Llamas. Tender songs, lush instrumentation featuring all manner of keyboards and strings, and O'Hagan's unassuming croon are all present and the album is a comforting return to the classic Llamas sound. It's also something a little different. The biggest change is the appearance of Cathal Coughlan's vocals and lyrics on three songs. The two were partners in the band Microdisney in the early '80s and Coughlan's slightly more forceful vocals and more inquisitive lyrics give a slight edge to the softly percolating music O'Hagan provides. "Candy Clock" is a charmingly wobbly song that sounds like video game music, "McCardle Brown" is a lovingly downcast character study that sounds like the Moles fed through an overheating 70's computer, and "Spoken Gem" is a beautiful song complete with harp, tight vocal harmonies, and piping horns. The collaboration between the two longtime friends is so nice that it almost makes one wish they had made the entire album together. They didn't, though, and that's okay because the rest of Radum Calls, Radum Calls is one of the best Llamas/O'Hagan albums in a long time. The instrumental interludes are almost painfully pretty and delicate; songs like "Better Lull Bear" and "Clearing House" have all the Baroque hallmarks O'Hagan always brings but the sound is sharper and more focused than some past efforts, lovely as they all are. The vocal tracks are a batch of winners too. The lilting "I Am Here" is pleasant and lighter than air with beautiful backing vocals provided by the trio of May Robson, Livvy O’Hagan, and Kelsey Michael, "On a Lonely Day (Ding, Dong)" blends cuteness with minor key melancholy magically, "Take My Steps (Nora Bramms)" sees O'Hagan trading vocal lines with his backing vocalists, and the most traditionally Llamas song here -- "The Paykan (Laili's Song)" -- rates with their best work. No matter the name, it's impressive that O'Hagan continues to examine this one small corner of the musical universe, still finding new ways to combine sounds in ways that please the ear and stimulate the mind.

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