Listen to this track by London-based orchestral pop experimentalists the High Llamas. It’s “Checking In, Checking Out”, a favourite track off of 1994’s Gideon Gaye. The band is led by one Sean O’Hagan, formerly of ’80s concern Microdisney, forming the High Llamas in the early ’90s, when most record companies were tripping over themselves trying to find other acts that sounded like Nirvana.
In reaction to that, and with an interest in genres of other eras, and other countries too, the High Llamas went up another path. They pursued a bouncy, bright, cinematic, and lushly arranged sound, with this one being a great example.
O’Hagan’s interest in The Beach Boys, Bacharach/David, Love, and Jimmy Webb certainly played into the sound of this track, and the band’s sound in general, providing a pretty strong stylistic tie to sunny Californian landscapes as filtered through their experiences living in often less than sunny London.
But what led this Anglo-Irish group in this direction in the first place? And, how did a sound like this make it onto a major label? Read more
Listen to this track by quirky Canadian art-pop maven Jane Siberry. It’s “Mimi On The Beach”, a breakthrough Canadian hit from her 1984 record No Borders Here. The song took off on college and alternative radio that year, bolstered by the heavy rotation of the video, made by Siberry with the help of friends.
The record yielded a couple of other hits in “Symmetry (The Way Things Have To Be)” and “I Muse Aloud”. But, for me it’s “Mimi” that made its mark, paving the way for those others.
At a point in pop history when Canadian music was beginning to find solid footing away from token Can-Con tracks on commercial radio, this song was a breath of fresh air. Siberry hit on stylistic notes from across the pop spectrum, most notably Joni Mitchell’s strong sense of narrative, with a dash of Kate Bush’s otherworldly charm.
In this song, there seems to be a cinematic quality to be found, given a striking image of a girl on a pink surf board, with accompanying parasol and picnic lunch. But, there’s a sense of dread, too.
Who is Mimi? And what was Jane Siberry trying to say about the world through her? Read more
Listen to this track by left-of-center art pop constructionists The Flaming Lips. It’s the second-to-last song on their epic 2002 masterpiece Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and what a stunning concoction of electronica, progressive rock, and pop it is, too. This song, as light and airy as it is, hides depths that belie its gentle and welcoming surface. This is a song about the fragile thread of life, a theme explored on the album as a whole.
The group had its beginning in the early ’80s, although it took until the ’90s for them to make a wider commercial impact. By the time they recorded Yoshimi …, they’d put out at least one hit single (“She Don’t Use Jelly”), and one universally acclaimed album (The Soft Bulletin) behind them. Yet it was here that the band, under the leadership of Wayne Coyne, made their greatest impact on the mainstream. And this is my favourite song off of the record, which stands as one of the most fully realized and cohesive records of the decade. Read more