Music Reviews - The High Llamas: Lollo Rosso

      Date posted: May 20, 1999

Lollo Rosso

      (V2 Music, 63881-27034-2)

      Kids today just don’t seem to trust anyone under thirty.

      Simply put, pop-culture in the late 1990’s is obsessed with nostalgia and the evidence is everywhere. Last month, a visibly aging Black Sabbath sold out the Skydome. This month, the formerly notorious Rolling Stones sold out the Air Canada Centre. And, sooner or later, a re-united Blondie will be back on tour.

      Everything old seems new again. Yesterday’s neo-punk grunge-kids are today’s swinging hep-cats while Marilyn Manson shocks a new generation of parents with his best Alice Cooper impression. Even Toronto’s so-called “new music station” is in on the retro-action. Every Sunday night CFNY broadcasts 80s pop-hits to a generation of kids who may have never heard music from an 8-Track player. And don’t even get me started on That 70’s Show!

      So, how do we explain our culture’s prevailing need to wallow in yesterday’s successes? Prominent social-anthropologists insist that our obsession with re-visiting the trend setting styles of the past 50-years is tantamount to “cultural spring cleaning” for the new millennium; a sub-conscious need for our civilization to prepare for a new beginning by making sense of the pop-cultural debris from the last 40 years. “Retro” in the 1990s is really about putting our cultural house in order, tying up loose-ends, and offering definitive judgments on what has come before. Without sounding too clever, its about making sense of the past, before we embark on the future.


      But hasn’t all this cultural revisionism become more than a little prosaic? Haven’t we already sucked all the meaning from these social relics? Although I am willing to accept that perhaps, just perhaps, all the retro-creative output that has fueled music, film and television for most of the 1990s was really just a manifestation of a giant pop-culture purge before the big 2000, isn’t it time that we moved on? Yes, of course it is.

      Fortunately for us, while Mulder and Scully were busy with last summer’s appropriately titled box-office smash Fight the Future, a group of less prominent artists were inconspicuously crafting essential pop-music for the new millennium.

      So, at your New Year’s 2000 Bash, when you’re all out of champagne and really need a break from Prince’s “Party like its 1999″, set your sights on the future of pop and “drop the needle” on The High Llama’s 1998 re-mix album - Lollo Rosso.

      Combine one part Paul McCartney, three parts Brian Wilson, and a hint of Lawrence Welk’s characteristic schmaltz and you get the transcendental pop of the High Llamas. Allow the world’s best electro-trance artists to re-mix these silver-toned melodies and you get Lollo Rosso - a ground-breaking new record from the High Llamas that successfully blends bright melodies with the best of ambient beats. Playful and obtuse; sunny and sublime, Lollo Rosso represents an interdisciplinary meeting of leading musical minds. The result is truly intelligent techno - rhythm oriented groovy fun inspired by the cheerful buoyancy of swinging 60s pop.

      The infamous Sean O’Hagan, highest of the High Llamas, deserves most of the credit for constructing this important record. As the band’s producer, arranger, and creative commandant O’Hagan recognized an untapped opportunity in fusing electronica with his own whimsical, melody-driven pop.

      Yet, unlike other 1990s po-mo rock experiments (think: Beck’s ironic pastiche or Ashley MacIssac’s hip-hop spin of Celtic folk) Lollo Rosso endeavours to blur the distinctions between its contributing musical genres. While an artist like Beck encourages us to hear the ways in which seemingly disparate or contradictory styles can work together, Lollo Rosso combines wax spinning DJs with melody driven college-rockers in an effort to create something entirely new. Beck bombards us with hip rock ‘n roll contradictions and allows us to marvel at how they simultaneously compliment and offset one-another, but O’Hagan seeks a real synthesis of differing musical ideas. In essence, the whole of Lollo Rosso aims to be greater than the sum of its parts.

      As such, O’Hagan’s assembled team of “musical interpreters” including, among others, Gastr del Sol’s Jim O’Rourke, Germany’s Mouse on Mars, and Japanese whiz-kid Cornelius explore the complexity of past High Llamas recordings (many of which come from the band’s 1997 release Cold and Bouncy) and reward the listener with layer upon layer of experimental harmonies and complimentary rhythms. An unabashed electronic album, Lollo Rosso abounds with a diversity of synthetic chirps and squeaks destined to delight the ears of any bonafide audiophile. Still, despite the apparent cacophony of sounds, O’Hagan succeeds in crafting an entirely cohesive mix.

      With this record, the High Llamas truly expand their creative range and, along with Stereolab and Tortoise, effectively complete the holy trinity of fin-de-siecle post-rock. If Lollo Rosso is any indication, our musical future is bright.

Marshall Butler

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