High Llamas Buzzle Bee

Sean O'Hagan's ongoing debt to Brian Wilson has been greatly exaggerated. At most, the element of the wayward Beach Boy's music making still informing the High Llamas is his approach; subverting conventional songs with arrangements that are deceptively complex, that veer into unexpected territory when comfortable homogeneity might have done. Last year's Snowbug album brought to the fore O'Hagan's long-time passion for Brazilian music and European soundtracks, and displaced much of the technological remoteness of 1996's Cold And Bouncy with an intimate warmth. Buzzle Bee, recorded quickly and cheaply (incidentally, not evident), following the group's second departure from a major label, is virtually a meeting point between the two. This is sure to cause further frustration among the many still waiting for a return to the traditional song-based forms of their debut, Gideon Gaye, although the marvellous "Get Into The Galley Shop" is as close to a pop song as O'Hagan has written in years. He's now as much a composer for imaginary films as he is a songwriter, demonstrated by the predominance of instrumental passages here and the downplaying of vocals in the mix to where they're just another texture. Buzzle Bee proves that the Llamas have established a signature sound and much of it is faultlessly beautiful. There's a sense, though, that it's also an apex; if their music isn't to become as comfortable as all those Beach Boys comparisons are tiresome, some genuine surprises will need to occur next time. Until then, listen to this and, as one song wisely counsels, "Lay down, watch the traffic go by." (Drag City)