Recording information: Peckham Heightsm, London; Press Play Studios, London; Trinity.
After a career spent making albums that felt like soundtracks, filled with repeating motifs, cinematic banjos, and the kind of cheerful, wistful melodies it was easy to envision someone cuddly like Kermit the Frog or Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivering, Sean O'Hagan and his High Llamas finally broke down in 2014 and wrote a musical of sorts. Inspired by O'Hagan's bicycle rides around his neck of the woods in Southeast London, Here Come the Rattling Trees is a loosely shaped narrative telling the stories of people real and imagined set to some typically sweet and deceptively simple musical backing. The main motif is a chiming bit of sunshine pop featuring harpisichord-esque acoustic guitar plucking and a staccato bassline that would have made Brian Wilson happy. It repeats throughout the album in slight variations, gaining in beauty each time it rolls around. The songs themselves are the usual Llamas fare, with O'Hagan's lovely voice surrounded by clip-clopping percussion, all sorts of warm keyboards, and rich, aged-to-perfection arrangements. The title track is the most arresting of the bunch, sporting a memorable chorus and an almost unbearably autumnal feel. It has a depth of emotion that many Llamas songs don't reach. At times it seemed like O'Hagan was more interested in sound than the feeling underneath, which is a perfectly fine way to operate. On Rattling Trees, he digs a little deeper at times and that works, too. Either way, as long as he and his group crank out songs as immediately hooky and perfectly crafted as "McKain James," a High Llamas album is going to be one worth checking out. Especially if you are a filmmaker looking for someone to score your next cute indie rom-com or pastoral romp. O'Hagan proves here once and for all that he's up to the job. ~ Tim Sendra