About 10 years ago, my pigheaded refusal to accept The Beach Boys as anything other than a West Coast preppy doo-wop band was obliterated by listening to the Pet Sounds Sessions. Having grown up with certain songs as part of the cultural furniture, I could see nothing that elevated Brian Wilson above the Jan & Dean cover versions I had on bargain bin 12-inch as a kid, which didn’t seem all that far removed from the theme to the (Rinky-Dink) Pink Panther show I used to watch in-between listening jags on my sofa-cushion surfboard on the living room floor.
Unadulterated sun does funny things to us here in England. If Christmas has passed, and a sky that’s blue rather than off-white presents itself, even the leafless, skeletal trees pressed against it begin take on the appearance of splattered summer-bugs on the world’s windscreen, and lo and behold — picnic benches are assembled outside Pubs and duly used by the skimpily dressed and goose bump fleshed. It was during one such momentary solar acknowledgement that I finally gave-in to my Dad’s maintenance that the mid ’60s witnessed a Trans-Atlantic game of musical one-upmanship ping-ponging between the Beatles & Beach Boys in search of audacious pop evolution.
The High Llamas’ expansive 29-track 1996 release Hawaii attracted the attention of The (Rinky Dink) Beach Boys themselves, resulting in an apparently rather bizarre meeting with the recently Landy-amputated Brian, when Bruce Johnston was feeling-out The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan as possible producer of a Wilson-reintegrated Beach Boys reboot. Several years and albums later, those pet sounds still linger in the High Llamas’ music. First thoughts on listening to Talahomi Way: “Ooh lush production…” Second thoughts: “ew, Brian Wilson’s lush production. This is an unofficial straight-to-video Pet Sounds Sequel. ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile…Longer’.” Such complaints are not so uncommon an accusation to be leveled at Sean O’Hagan, and one that he regularly wafts away by saying he wears his influences on his sleeve…but its what’s beneath the records’ sleeve that counts.
No song on this record is in itself particularly bad, it’s just that, for me at least, their influences are insurmountable and left me longing for them. Walking around this week with the sun uncharacteristically blistering, and nature ejaculating everywhere, this record should, but doesn’t, make any sense. While numerous artists have in the past appropriated and referenced giants of production and/or songwriting in their production and/or songwriting, they’ve always mixed-in something unique to the milieu, or at least isolated the unadulterated fanboy homage to one or two tracks, but this album is relentlessly unabashed in its persistent impersonations. I spent all my time methodically attempting to identify where every one of its constituents originated from, leaving me with the feeling I was undertaking an aural autopsy.
While the sounds are ‘sun-soaked’ and pretty enough, and the arrangements are tight and methodical, the lack of substance makes it feel as though it was written by, at best, a committee, and at worst a machine. While I understand the existence of an audience that sees albums of this type as a welcome tribute and perpetuation to an idyllic sound, I’d argue that the difference is as stark as the radiation of the sun to a generous microwave blast, and this like the latter leaves me feeling cold in the center.
Brian Wilson – SMiLE
Jim O’Rourke – Eureka
Ennio Morricone – Gli Scassinatori (The Burglars) OST
Stream: High Llamas – “Fly Baby, Fly”