Pop Review: The trouble with corpses

The High Llamas

Cecil Sharp House

London

Within earshot of London Zoo's lions, inside the splendour of the English Folk Song Society's walls, Sean O'Hagan is trying to raise a ghost. ' guiding light has wrestled with this phantom before. It's the spirit of Brian Wilson he needs. Last year, he tried to summon that spirit from the husk of Wilson himself, called in to try to heal the Beach Boys' wounds. O'Hagan failed to reunite them in the flesh. So he continues to resurrect them in his music. The first two High Llamas albums reconstituted Wilson's surf-sounds at their most melancholy, strengthened them with a dash of Steely Dan, a hint of soundtrack music. Their next album, Cold and Bouncy, will loosen those shackles. But tonight, the necrophiliac surf still washes over the Llamas.

It seems almost churlish to complain. The sounds they have made their obsession are so beautiful, after all. For a while, it is possible to lose yourself in the Smile-era glow. The strings and the brass and the clopping hooves all sit in their alloted space in the intimate intricacy of Wilson's vision. The voices harmonise, rougher than the Beach Boys, and the better for it. It's reliably pretty. Until you realise: I'veheard this all before. Why am I hearing it again?

It is not a problem for tonight's crowd, polite pop obsessives happy with old thrills. But for anyone not a member of this master-class, the magic soon fades. The surprise on which pop depends is not possible when you are working with a corpse. The melodic sense the true Wilson honed in unforgiving pop charts before he entered the laboratory which the High Llamas now worship isn't O'Hagan's. The beauty becomes indistinguishable, the more of it he piles on our plate.

Each song eventually becomes a mantra or a coda, before or after the climax, never at the point of satisfaction. Like so much current pop, O'Hagan is not only hypnotised by the recent past. He is attempting the grace and sweep of orchestral music, too. Wilson, tormented by competition with supreme talents, would have approved. But it is a distracting grail for pop, weakening its shock.

Only on the songs from Cold and Bouncy does O'Hagan push past the phantoms which bar his way. It is a record on which the Beach Boys at last fade to a trace, a record on which their ghost is laid. As trills and bleeps and brass squirt over surf-synth repetition, you can lose yourself in it. "Let's rebuild the past, 'cause the future can't last," O'Hagan sings at one point. When his music works, it does not matter when we are.

`Cold and Bouncy' (Alpaca) is out on 26 January. begin a full UK tour on 29 January at Brighton Pavilion.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

    £35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

    £30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - £17,000 Basic, OTE Uncapped

    £17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line Technical Analyst

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 1st / 2nd Line Technical Anal...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate