The High Llamas
Beet Maize & Corn
Head Llama Sean O’Hagan reportedly doesn’t like it that critics always say his band sounds like The Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach. But that’s not likely to change based on the latest Llamas effort. Other than virtually abandoning synthesizers, electric guitars and, to some degree, drums this time out, not much about their musical approach is different.
Beet Maize & Corn is full of impeccably tasteful, meticulously arranged, string and horn-drenched tunes. And occasionally O’Hagan even comes up with a pretty line to go with the pretty music. “Autumn spills on palace hills, summer makes its way,” he sings on “The Click and The Fizz.”
The problem is that most of these songs seem more like genre exercises than contributions to the songwriting canon. All this prettiness for prettiness sake doesn’t allow the listener to make any real emotional connection. Take the tune “Calloway” and lines like “There’s nothing but a broom, a half a dozen loaves / The room has lost its bloom, its purples and its mauves.” Huh? On “Porter Dimi,” O’Hagan employs an entire chorus of singers, using alternating male and female voices to go with the extravagant instrumentation. The effect makes the tune as emotionless and innocuously pleasant as muzak and just about as exciting.
When he sings the songs himself, O’Hagan sounds vaguely like Colin Moulding of XTC, and some tracks here (like the under-two-minutes “The Holly Hills”) do exhibit a bit more personality. But overall, Beet Maize & Corn is just retro-futuristic elevator music that fails to do justice to its source material.