High Llamas - Hey Panda

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High Llamas present ‘Hey Panda’ - a modern pop music / deep listening experience that could only issue forth from their personal quadrant of the galaxy. ‘Hey Panda’ projects soulfully through an enervating abstract of today’s popular music; the sound of the Llamas’ stately melodies and expressive ditties laid open - blissfully shattered - with drums and vocals hitting different, burning sounds and contemporary production twists pulling the ear at every turn.

For the past few decades, High Llamas have trafficked in contemporary pop sounds directed toward the avant end of the spectrum as much as not. But here the message was clear. Llamas’ composer-in-residence Sean O’Hagan was determined to let go. ‘Hey Panda’ does just that, with a set of tunes reflecting on multiple levels how definitions change over the course of a lifetime, radiating an optimism derived from the diverse conundrums of today.

Eight years since their last release, the pop musical ‘Here Come The Rattling Trees’, High Llamas have reinvented themselves again, mixing their peerless harmonic voice with what Sean regards as the ‘extraordinarily good’ production sounds of today on ‘Hey Panda’.

Choosing not to look backward to former golden ages celebrated in earlier Llamas eras, Sean’s instead found himself opened up by the sounds of music brought into the house by his adult children and the sounds encountered at sessions for which he’s recently written arrangements. In addition to the more traditional contributions he made to The Coral’s ‘Sea of Mirrors’ album, plus his score for the Safdie brothers’ 2022 film production, ‘Funny Pages’, Sean’s drawn great inspiration through working with Fryars, Rae Morris, King Krule, Pearl and The Oyster, while also soaking up the work of Tierra Whack and Chicago’s Pivot Gang, and being cheered on from a distance by longtime admirer Tyler The Creator.

Thus, Sean’s producer procedural has evolved again, with upgrades first detected in his 2019 solo effort, ‘Radum Calls, Radum Calls’. With a cover of Billie Eilish’s ‘Wish You Were Gay’ arranged for Bill Callahan and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s ‘Blind Date Party’, along with his COVID-era solo single, ‘The Wild Are Welcome’, Sean has levelled up again and again, leading to the delirious revelations of ‘Hey Panda’.

‘Hey Panda’’s wide reach is aided by two co-writes from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, (who bonded with Sean over a shared love of gospel soul during writing sessions), guest vocals from Rae Morris and Sean’s daughter Livvy, production twists from Fryars and the stalwart, flexible presence of High Llamas.

For all of its sense of departure, ‘Hey Panda’ is a movement in the High Llamas oeuvre that’s been a long time in development. Aspects of soul music were addressed at the time of ‘Can Cladders’; similarly, aspects of electronic dance music were in the mix in the late 90s, around the time of ‘Cold and Bouncy’. But nothing up to now has refocused the music of High Llamas so completely. Sharing the impulse of late-period Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, with further inspiration from Steve Lacy, SZA, Sault, No Name and Ezra Collective, among many others, Sean O’Hagan and High Llamas are living joyfully in the new and the now, with ‘Hey Panda’.