The High Llamas - Here Come The Rattling Trees (Drag City)

Veteran indie/chamber pop ensemble return with lush but slightly underwhelming eleventh LP

Released Jan 21st, 2016 via Drag City / By Allan Judkins
The High Llamas - Here Come The Rattling Trees (Drag City) Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way before anything else. Not once had this author heard anything by the veteran London based indie/jazz/pop outfit the High Llamas before pondering the opportunity to review this record, despite their 24 years of existence. Only then, finding out that his girlfriend actually vomited quite badly during their set at a Mansun gig in the nineties. That and a quick YouTube skim over some hits, however, and a deal was scored.

Additionally, an album in this format is perceived as something completely new, and it’s taking quite the dedicated effort to get one’s head around it. Here Come The Rattling Trees comes equipped with “underscores” (or pre-interludes) before most songs. Not only that but “recalls” as well, that occur four times throughout the record. It is at this point, however, where we must establish the fact that it was written as the score for a play of the same title. Even while that is the intention behind this album, it still feels very interlude-heavy and cut-up judging on an audio-only experience. And after a full listen it’s hard to feel like a lot has been accomplished. But then on closer inspection, noticing that despite boasting sixteen tracks in total - it only amounts to twenty eight minutes, which is sort of reminiscent of old Anal Cunt albums. Only judging by track length though. Literally nothing else.

The music in fact is gentle, bright and sunny. Perfectly charming. Like a relaxing long weekend in north Norfolk, or a late summer/early autumn stroll around a leafy suburban park. It sort of sounds like The Flaming Lips doing Watercolour Challenge. HCTRT seems based more on the arrangement and dynamics of the instrumentation than song content itself. Some of the jazzy chord and key changes (or modulations, technically speaking) must have taken an age to work out and voice, so that’s worth noting at least. The instrumentation is drums, double bass, guitar, keys and marimba, all woven together very carefully.

The title track, however, stands out as a fully-fledged, full length song, and sits on a lovely sauntering chorus a la Neil Young and/or Crosby Stills & Nash. McKain James has a catchy tag-line, but in the wrong kind of way – to the point where it starts to irritate and you find yourself having to play other music just to get it out of your head. Some of the underscores are actually longer than the song in question in which they lead up to, which adds to the perplexity of how the album flows. The chorus of final track Jackie is really beautiful though, and resonates well with a warm seasoning of reverb while fading out to the end.

Tentatively speaking, it even bridges on elevatorial music styles at times, especially in the interludes. It’s nice to listen to while cooking, and if it wasn’t one already it would probably make a perfect soundtrack to a Sunday style film with butterfly catchers and people blowing dandelions… but as far as a dedicated listen goes it’s hard not to get tangled up in the all-too similar motifs and phrases. It’s these aspects that struggle to really help the music take off and go places. Maybe this record has fallen into the wrong reviewer’s hands in all honesty, and credit to them for what is their eleventh album too. Some pleasant stuff but otherwise confusing and not massively functional in the form it has been presented in. You could probably get away with calling them the Really High Llamas, or something.