The High Llamas


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Sean O'Hagan makes records the way some people make miniature models, slaving over the little details. At first, it's hard not to be impressed by the glittering surface, but after a while -- either upon closer examination or repeated exposure to similar works -- the initial thrill fades away, and the actual content isn't that impressive. But that's not the only reason why Snowbug, the fifth full-length album by O'Hagan's High Llamas, feels like their weakest effort yet. With Snowbug, O'Hagan is utterly complacent, perfectly content to roll out his old bag of tricks, whether it's something he used on Hawaii or his production work for Stereolab. If you haven't heard his other work, perhaps the little trademark flourishes will be charming, but this is the least involving record he has yet cut, either as an artist or producer. All the melodies are self-consciously designed to be frothy and hummable, yet none of them wind up being memorable, largely because more time has been spent on the recording than the writing. To a certain extent, that's been true of his previous records, but here, it seems as if he's spending all his energy creating a painstakingly detailed replica of his past work. That may be enough for some fans, those who simply revel in the sheer construct of the sound, but it sounds increasingly like a dead end for O'Hagan. At one point, there was charm and invention to his music, even if it was merely an homage, but now that it's become the patented High Llamas sound, it's clear that he's boxed himself into a corner, and worse, he doesn't seem that concerned about it. The end result may be something to admire based on one quick glance, but upon closer inspection, it's too easy to see the seams in the construction.

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