mon 20/05/2024

Album: High Llamas - Hey Panda | reviews, news & interviews

Album: High Llamas - Hey Panda

Album: High Llamas - Hey Panda

Former Microdisney mainstay Sean O’Hagan reshapes his music

High Llamas's 'Hey Panda': head-spinning

Hey Panda is unlike any previous High Llamas album. While the characteristic traces of late Sixties and early Seventies Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks and Steely Dan are here, they have become melded with a sensibility lead-Llama Sean O’Hagan has absorbed from multifaceted US hip hop producer J Dilla – whose approach to rhythm and song structure rewrote standard linear templates.

In the promotional material for the first High Llamas album – the title comes from a panda seen on TikTok during the coronavirus pandemic – in eight years, O’Hagan is quoted saying “when I heard J Dilla in the early 2000s, I thought that was the great renewal of contemporary pop production. I did not have the language or skill set to go there. I was also afraid of being judged. So I avoided, or only hinted at this sound. So this record [Hey Panda] had to address what I have come to love. Dilla reshaped the world.”

This artistic renewal means Hey Panda’s songs embrace – to varying degrees – shifts into differing time signatures, sudden melodic changes and vocals with unexpected, auto-tune-assisted alterations of register. In this mix, a couple of co-writes with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and guest vocals by Rae Morris and O’Hagan’s daughter Livvy. Morris’s husband Benjamin Garrett (who records as Fryars) has helped with the production.

The head-spinning outcome comes across as if current dance/gospel/R&B outfit SAULT were refracting O’Hagan’s familiar musical benchmarks through a lens trained on J Dilla’s distinctive take on hip hop. As to further reasons for O’Hagan’s transformation of his music, he has also said his age may mean this is the last chance to do something this radical. It might, then, also be possible that the 2022 death of his former Microdisney partner Cathal Coughlan – who guested on O’Hagan’s 2019’s solo set Radum Calls, Radum Calls – was so much of a jolt, a sign things do not go on forever, that it also fed into O’Hagan’s reassessment of his music. Whatever the motivation, it was realised there was no time for hesitation. Consequently, Hey Panda rewrites Sean O’Hagan’s musical autobiography.


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