April 15, 2003
Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Chamber Pop, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Indie Electronic

Album Review

Retrospective, Rarities & Instrumentals is a double-disc summation of the High Llamas' recordings for V2 (and two early records that V2 bought the rights to). The first disc is a collection of 16 songs from the Llamas albums: two tracks from 1992's Santa Barbara, three from 1995's Gideon Gaye, four from 1996's Hawaii, three from 1998's Cold & Bouncy, and four from 1999's Snowbug. The sequence of tracks is quite stunning. Many critics wrote the band off as mere Beach Boys copyists whose albums all sounded exactly the same, but hearing their best songs back to back, one can see they wrote a lot of killer melodies and while the songs are all based on the same template -- soaring strings, smooth harmony-laden background vocals, chamber pop accouterments like vibraphones and bells, Sean O'Hagan's honest and sweet voice, and a classic feel for melody -- there are enough differences to be found from track to track to make this disc a standout. It is fun to see how the early, relatively stripped-down sound of "Apricots" or "Holland" from their first album progresses to the lush, majestic sound of "Nomads" from Hawaii to the intricately arranged and easy listening-influenced sound of "Bach Ze" from Snowbug. Disc two collects 14 B-sides and songs that were bonus tracks on Japanese or U.S. editions of the albums. Three of the songs come from the limited-edition bonus disc that came with Hawaii, including one of O'Hagan's best songs, the arch and lovely "It Might as Well Be Dumbo." The rest of the tracks are a mix of space-age instrumentals and bouncy pop. The rarest track is the previously unreleased "Vampo Brazil," which was recorded for Cold & Bouncy but didn't make the final cut. This is a disc that fans will find to be a real treat, though not as essential as the first disc. Retrospective, Rarities & Instrumentals is the definitive High Llamas record. It makes a strong case for them as one of the best pop bands of the 1990s and is a heck of a lot of fun to listen to also.
Tim Sendra, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Checking In, Checking Out
  2. Glide Time
  3. Nomads
  4. Literature Is Fluff
  5. Bach Ze [Edit]
  6. The Sun Beats Down
  7. The Goat Looks On
  8. Harpers Romo
  9. Ill-Fitting Suits
  10. Three Point Scrabble
  11. Sparkle Up
  12. Triads
  13. Green Coaster
  14. Apricots
  15. The Dutchman
  16. Holland
  17. It Might as Well Be Dumbo
  18. Over the River
  19. Beachy Bunch
  20. Janet Jangle
  21. In the Yacht
  22. Vampo Brazil [#]
  23. Mini-Management
  24. Shuggie Todd
  25. Harmonium
  26. Stop Trainer
  27. Elliot Bridge
  28. HiBall Nova Scotia
  29. Showstop (Op Art Informal)
  30. Homespin Rerun
  31. Cropduster
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