Monday, November 06, 2006

book 'em, steve-o

Following a particularly dreadful time at university (and dear reader, if we are ever to meet in person, I will surely tell you all about it but I fear that a website is not the place), I returned to my old home town, my mum and dad's house and a PARTICULARLY toxic and pointless relationship (alas, dear reader, should we meet, I will surely NOT tell you about that).

This was a weird time - I'd studied subjects I was interested in but with no thought to what I wanted to do with my life, a question that continues to plague me to this day. So I ended up signing on for a while and taking temporary part-time jobs where I could - and I can tell you that the only good thing about an extended period of claiming unemployment benefit is that, at parties, I can thrill audiences by reciting my National Insurance number.

But I managed to organise my time - on weekdays I would go to the local library, check the vacancies in all the papers, come home, tidy up and be done in time for lunch and the lunchtime edition of Neighbours, this being the golden era of Paul and Gail Robinson and the mythical, always-misplaced Udigowa Contract ("Gail... have you seen the...?"). Most days I would then retreat into the dining room for an afternoon of computerised card games whilst listening to "Hawaii" by The High Llamas.

The High Llamas - Sparkle Up

Despite the bleak picture I've painted above, I have nothing but happy thoughts associated with this album. It's still one of my "Top 10" albums after all these years, as I discovered when I dug it out again today. At the time I heard it, I didn't really have a clue about any of the influences that seem so obvious now - Steely Dan, post-'Pet Sounds' Beach Boys, John Barry, soft-rock. (In fact, this was the period in my life when I was still coming out in a cold sweat whenever I heard the Beach Boys.) None of that seemed to matter as I listened to the smooth vibes and weirdly-twisted, smart-arse lyrics.

The High Llamas - Literature is Fluff

Everything is recorded with such precision and the instruments are placed exactly just so, but at the time I was more of a lo-fi enthusiast. It's weird - I know why I like it now, I just don't really understand why I liked it then! Despite all of the smoothness, there's something a bit cracked about it all - I don't think it's entirely sincere and Sean O'Hagan is obviously an adept musical magpie. But the warmth and heart audible throughout stops the album from being a parlour-room songwriting-contest smirk-fest.

The High Llamas - Peppy

According to the ubiquitous Wikepedia, the album is "a musical spaghetti western on themes of tourism and colonialism", none of which mattered a jot to me at the time, as I switched between Tai Pai and Vegas-rules Solitaire. "Peppy" was always a favourite with gorgeous picked guitar and harmonies.

The High Llamas - Campers in Control

There really isn't anything that complicated about why I like this stuff; it's immensely enjoyable but dense enough to keep you coming back for more. The album has 29 tracks, ranging from the "proper" songs I've included here to bizarre musical collages and short snippets. To me, it's still a perfect album, one that I can listen to again and again.

As my brother will tell you, I am nothing if not a musical completist but I've never felt the need to buy another High Llamas album - I can't see what they could possibly add to this. However, despite the lack of updates on their own website, Wikipedia hints that there'll be a new album next year.

Visit - High Llamas website
Visit - High Llamas on Wikipedia
Buy - Hawaii

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