TS: The High Llamas vs The Beach Boys (no, really)

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A pointless case of playing devil's advocate with one of the canon's sacred cows ? Or a valid question ?

Well, I've just listened to the "Hawaii" LP and come to the conclusion that while the Boys have the history, the Llamas may just have the modern edge. I put it to you, ILMers, that Sean O'Hagan's undeniable fixation with the sound of B.Wilson circa 1966 to 1968, mixed with the dots, loops and bleeps of Stereolab-type post-rock, may be just as if not more listenable than much of the Wilsons' screechy, druggy, hippy stuff of the "Smile" and "Wild Honey" period.

Can it be that the influenced supersedes the influential ?

darren (darren), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:12 (fifteen years ago) link

sometimes - but not here! not remotely.

j blount (papa la bas), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:16 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah they have the modern edge, they're modern. Last q, in regards to this comparison, nah. You crazy.

A Viking of Some Note (Andrew Thames), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:16 (fifteen years ago) link

the High Llamas are unforgivably boring. this is no contest.

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:17 (fifteen years ago) link

They're unforgivingly boring too

A Viking of Some Note (Andrew Thames), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:17 (fifteen years ago) link

Really all O'Hagen does is ape a very, very narrow slice of the Beach Boys' bizarrely varied ouevre (specifically "Let's Get Away for Awhile" and the like), stick some vintage synth blippy-bloopy sounds over it, and repeat ad nauseam for 50-minutes. There is way WAY more to the Beach Boys than just tropical-vacation orchestral 60s pop. And their live show put me to sleep.

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:23 (fifteen years ago) link

Modern meaning mid-to-late 90's? I liked Hawaaii as it seemed to be what your saying when I heard it only in the way of Pet Sound instrumentals redux with electronic bleeps and gurgles, but it dated poorly, and O'Hagen has problems writing melodies that stick.

Smile isn't *as* druggy as it is Van Dyke's fixation with 'Discovering America', and Wild Honey wasn't even Brians, from what I understand. It was the Boys trying to be a soul band.

PappaWheelie (PappaWheelie), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:25 (fifteen years ago) link

beach boys but only
because the high llamas don't
do any car songs

Haikunym (Haikunym), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:32 (fifteen years ago) link

a few years ago i would've said llamas. but that's only because i hadn't heard the beach boys beyond the hits. now it is def. beach boys. the llamas are still pretty great, tho.

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:35 (fifteen years ago) link

No-one could ever deny that O'Hagan does indeed ape the likes of "Let's Go Away For A While". And I do love Brian Wilson's music. But I also love the way that Sean and co can consistently manage to eke a pleasurable 50 minutes out of noodling away using that waltz-time "dang-dang" keyboard sound along with the aforementioned mid-90s (retro can be any era) bleeps, and nondescript but beautifully-landscaped lyrics. I like it anyway.

darren (darren), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:46 (fifteen years ago) link

I recall liking the High Llamas, but don't think I have any of their stuff. The Beach Boys are one of my favorite groups. So what is the best High Llamas record(s)? And are they like Beechwood Sparks? I guess I need to know...

edd s hurt (ddduncan), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:51 (fifteen years ago) link

I suppose "Hawaii" and "Cold and Bouncy" have the best tunes and the sqiggliest noises - there is a 'best of' sampler type thing but i dont know its name.

darren (darren), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:54 (fifteen years ago) link

A lot of people think that Hawaii is their masterpiece. It's certainly their most ambitious and cohesive record. But for a newcomer, I'd actually suggest getting Retrospective, Rarities, & Instrumentals, to get a taste of the subtle variations on the Llamas' sound.

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:55 (fifteen years ago) link

(xpost) -- yeah, that's the "best of" sampler type thing.

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 16:56 (fifteen years ago) link

thanks for the recommendations!

edd s hurt (ddduncan), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:02 (fifteen years ago) link

I'd suggest:

Snowbug for tunes
Hawaii for soundscapes
Cold & Bouncy for a compromise

The only song from Buzzle Bee that caught my attention was New Broadway. The rest of the catalog I skipped for whatever reason (sans Santa Barbra, which isn't really relevant to this thread)

Let us know if a year from now you think this stuff hold up...

PappaWheelie (PappaWheelie), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:13 (fifteen years ago) link

and Beet, Maize, & Corn? That's probably the Llamas' most overlooked album ever. It might be their best album.. it's the ultimate summary of all the best moments of their previous records in one not-too-long album.

donut debonair (donut), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:27 (fifteen years ago) link

I think Hawaii is their best though, for the reasons stated above..

I'm not going to take sides. I'll say the Beachwood Sparks are dud though.. haha.

donut debonair (donut), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:28 (fifteen years ago) link

Actually, just to be comprehensive, I've been listening to Gideon Gaye more than any of the others lately, though it's markedly different from the albums that follow. ("Checking In, Checking Out" rocks a bit more than anything else they've done, in a sort of Steely Dan way.) Agreed that Buzzle Bee is the nadir.

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:32 (fifteen years ago) link

I like Buzzle Bee better than any Beach Boys album. And the more I'm told how self-evidently great The Beach Boys are, the more I'm reminded how ignored they were, or considered Beatles also-rans, washed up "Kokomo" old folks, before The High Llamas and Elephant 6 collective got people interested in them again.

Saxon Holt, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:36 (fifteen years ago) link

I have to admit not listening much to Sean O'Hagan's High Llamas (1990) nor High Llamas' Santa Barbara that much. Gideon Gaye is where the swooning starts... and yeah, the Steely Dan comparisons are very cogent.

donut debonair (donut), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:40 (fifteen years ago) link

The High Llamas catalog definitely beats the admittedly small slice of Beach Boys I've heard(Pet Sounds, last year's version of Smile, radio surf stuff obv.) but then again I'm probably as close to a High Llamas fanatic as you're likely to meet.
High Llamas may be my favorite band in the sense of "this is the kind of music I've been looking for all my life"; as such I'm interested in looking for Beach Boys music that sounds like HL instead of the other way around, the pedigree and pervasive "Brian did it first=better" formulation is not only completely irrelevant but runs counter to my experience so far.

tremendoid (tremendoid), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:44 (fifteen years ago) link

it takes a lot of sifting, tremendoid, but between Pet Sounds and L.A. Light Album inclusive plus the Good Vibrations box set, you could put together a great compilation of BB tracks that, IMHO, would trump any High Llamas release.. but there isn't a solid Beach Boys album aside from Pet Sounds that does that.

donut debonair (donut), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:47 (fifteen years ago) link

"the more I'm reminded how ignored they were, or considered Beatles also-rans, washed up "Kokomo" old folks, before The High Llamas and Elephant 6 collective got people interested in them again."

If anything, I found the Beach Boys comparisons for all those bands not only highly innacurate and inappropriate, but insulting to the Beach Boys, and, what's more, struck me as opinions based upon a very narrow exposure to the Beach Boys' music. I have never heard a single E6 song that really sounds anything like the Beach Boys, with the possible exception of OTC's first single off "Black Foliage", which was terrible. (and fwiw I am certain I was not the only person deeply into the Beach Boys stuff prior to the mid-90s "revival" hoohah).

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:56 (fifteen years ago) link

(and again, the High Llamas themselves are essentially only interested in a very specific handful of Beach Boys songs, mostly found on Pet Sounds and a couple others from Sunflower + Surf's Up - but that's an incredibly narrow swath of music from a band as strangely diverse as the Beach Boys)

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 17:58 (fifteen years ago) link

Brian did it first/=better

Brian wrote melodies that stick, and respected the idea that short pop song structures maintain the listener's interest more often than not.

I discovered non-hit Beach Boys when a copy of Endless Summer was dumped on me in 1987, which was well before the indie-rediscovery of them. Let Him Run Wild still floors me. Near tears each listen.

Shakey Mo Collier hit it OTM upthread:

[[[Really all O'Hagen does is ape a very, very narrow slice of the Beach Boys' bizarrely varied ouevre (specifically "Let's Get Away for Awhile" and the like), stick some vintage synth blippy-bloopy sounds over it, and repeat ad nauseam for 50-minutes. There is way WAY more to the Beach Boys than just tropical-vacation orchestral 60s pop...]]]

Some like blippy-bloppy sounds though; I do to some degree. No hatred over that. But I see more depth and layers in the Beach Boys catalog.

New Thread: Endless Sumner...

PappaWheelie (PappaWheelie), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:00 (fifteen years ago) link

Sorry. xpost Shakey...

PappaWheelie (PappaWheelie), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:02 (fifteen years ago) link

for one thing, the Llamas and the E6 bands never, EVER achieved anything close to the super-complex vocal harmonies that is the Boys' main sonic hallmark. In most cases, they didn't even bother trying (how much of the High Llamas catalog is instrumental, 75% at least...?)

I won't bother arguing that Wilson is overall a better orchestrator and, more importantly, melodically inventive composer than O'Hagen. Certainly his songs are fucking catchier.

x-x-xpost

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:06 (fifteen years ago) link

People were into them, I'm not saying that. But the boom or resurgence or whatever you want to call it happened after O'Hagen and those Elephant 6 dudes were way deferential in interviews and things.

For the most Beach Boyish E6 song, check out "Marking Time" on Dusk at Cubist Castle. It's a great, great song, and sounds like a facsimile of Smiley Smile Beach Boys.

Saxon Holt, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:06 (fifteen years ago) link

She would like to buy a little pad in Hawaaii...

PappaWheelie (PappaWheelie), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:10 (fifteen years ago) link

High Llamas instrumentals make up only about 25%, but point taken. (Actually, O'Hagan once said that his goal was for people to finish listening to a High Llamas record and not be able to recall if there were vocals or not.)

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:16 (fifteen years ago) link

well mission accomplished then!

Shakey Mo Collier, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:21 (fifteen years ago) link

Actually, O'Hagan once said that his goal was for people to finish listening to a High Llamas record and not be able to recall if there were vocals or not.

A lofty goal! And I think, for the most part, one that was successful.

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:24 (fifteen years ago) link

Shakey, my main point should be that this is a comparison that I regard as no more than a curiosity and to the extent that it has risen to the level of 'debate'(with the errant main thrust of determining whether or not O'Hagen is 'living up' to Brian's vision) its become oppressive and clouded way too many listening experiences to the HL's detriment(it could also be that I'm a sore loser, yes). Fact is, I melt into some of the slower HL compositions in a way that wouldn't even occur to me while listening to Pet Sounds or Smile(Brian's more contemplative moments tend toward the meandering and whiny and punchdrunk; there's always at least a little snap and purpose if not playfulness to the HL's meditations) and rejoice in 'God Only Knows' like very few songs on earth(and the BB are more catchy /= you win), and I'm happy leaving it at that.

tremendoid (tremendoid), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 19:10 (fifteen years ago) link

Some High Llamas songs feels academic to me in a way that the Beach Boys never do.

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 19:12 (fifteen years ago) link

Sean O'Hagan is OK, and makes very pretty music at times. Occasionally, it may also be very boring though.

I have nothing much against High Llamas, but O'Hagan is no match to Beach Boys

Geir Hongro (GeirHong), Wednesday, 4 May 2005 20:17 (fifteen years ago) link

Sean's a good arranger but he can't write songs for shit, frankly

A Viking of Some Note (Andrew Thames), Thursday, 5 May 2005 02:19 (fifteen years ago) link

At their best, the High Llamas sound like the band the Beach Boys could have become. The bits of the Beach Boys that sound like the High Llamas (so to speak) may be a narrow strip of their overall work, but they also happen to be the Beach Boys at their most beautiful.

Japanese Giraffe (Japanese Giraffe), Thursday, 5 May 2005 11:27 (fifteen years ago) link

I already hear the procession of torch-bearing townsfolk...

Japanese Giraffe (Japanese Giraffe), Thursday, 5 May 2005 11:27 (fifteen years ago) link

Beach Boys, as Sean O'Hagan can't sing for toffee. This is a small but important detail.

O'Hagan was approached by "Brian's people" to do some stuff for the Beach Boys in the mid-'90s. He went to LA; first thing he saw was Mike Love bearing down on him asking if it were true that all Englishmen were "faggots." Exit O'Hagan stage left quicksnap.

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Thursday, 5 May 2005 11:51 (fifteen years ago) link

agreed, i saw o'hagan in london recently, his voice is about average for a footballer singing in the bath. which is fine, but when you're comparing him to carl wilson, then you have a problem. i mean, i imagine carl wilson could sing falsetto in key.

debden, Thursday, 5 May 2005 12:36 (fifteen years ago) link

Sean O'H lives in Peckham you know!!

This is important!

I have never heard the High Llamas though, although I am a very big fan of Microdisney. So he gets pretty much carte blance from me.

Lucretia My Reflection (Lucretia My Reflection), Thursday, 5 May 2005 12:49 (fifteen years ago) link

I do like Gideon Gaye but this is largely for sentimental personal reasons to do with Maida Vale, the summer of '94, etc. - more Abbey Road than Surf's Up, which I think works to the record's advantage.

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Thursday, 5 May 2005 12:52 (fifteen years ago) link

O'Hagan was approached by "Brian's people" to do some stuff for the Beach Boys in the mid-'90s. He went to LA; first thing he saw was Mike Love bearing down on him asking if it were true that all Englishmen were "faggots." Exit O'Hagan stage left quicksnap.

-- Marcello Carlin (marcellocarli...), May 5th, 2005.

!?HUH?!

I never heard that about Mike Love. I guess there's more reasons to dislike him.

99 der leuft balloonnnss, Thursday, 5 May 2005 19:28 (fifteen years ago) link

the correct response would of been to say "'cor blimey, guv'nor!" and pinch his ass.

Shakey Mo Collier, Thursday, 5 May 2005 19:59 (fifteen years ago) link

O'Hagan was approached by "Brian's people" to do some stuff for the Beach Boys in the mid-'90s. He went to LA; first thing he saw was Mike Love bearing down on him asking if it were true that all Englishmen were "faggots." Exit O'Hagan stage left quicksnap.
-- Marcello Carlin (marcellocarli...), May 5th, 2005.


!?HUH?!

I never heard that about Mike Love. I guess there's more reasons to dislike him.

-- 99 der leuft balloonnnss (dododod...), May 5th, 2005. (later)

Yes, told in a 1997 Uncut feature w/ Brian on the cover. We have Sean O'Hagen's squeamishness to thank (in part) for never getting one last record out of them. I mean, as a huge fan of the Beach Boys, it must have come as a great shock to him to learn that Mike Love was actually a jerk.

Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Thursday, 5 May 2005 20:59 (fifteen years ago) link

Sean's a good arranger but he can't write songs for shit, frankly

There are a few cases of him managing to write good songs. They are called "Checking In, Checking Out" and "Giddy And Gay", both brilliant songs.

But generally, you are kind of right.

Geir Hongro (GeirHong), Thursday, 5 May 2005 22:13 (fifteen years ago) link

i dunno, i think the whole premise of this thread is a bit unfair. like "luna vs. the velvet underground". OBVIOUSLY, the latter band is going to emerge victorious. but that doesn't mean that the High Llamas/Luna/whoever are totally worthless. the high llamas are quite clearly working off of a template set in place by Brian Wilson, just like Luna is working off of the VU template (generally speaking--i know these bands have plenty of other influences). But what the hell--personally, i'd put Gideon Gaye up there with anything the Beach Boys have done, just like Penthouse is up there with anything the VU did. The High Llamas aren't innovators--that's where they fall short. But they've made some pretty beautiful music. and for what it's worth, I quite liked the live show they put on when they last toured the states.

tylerw, Thursday, 5 May 2005 22:51 (fifteen years ago) link

fifteen years pass...

Love the High Llamas. Sean O'Hagan is a wizard. The more of his (and Cathal Coughlan's) songs I chord out and present on a website I've been building - COUGHLANOHAGAN.COM - the more I see just how great O'Hagan was and remains (as well as his songwriting partner from Microdisney, Coughlan).

weirwrite, Saturday, 23 May 2020 06:43 (one week ago) link

I've loved O'Hagan's music for a long, long time. In fact, it was one of two reasons why I launched a website around his music https://coughlanohagan.com/.

weirwrite, Saturday, 23 May 2020 06:46 (one week ago) link

knobhead

thomasintrouble, Saturday, 23 May 2020 17:41 (one week ago) link


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