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The High Llamas 

Can Cladders (Drag City)

Craftsmen are underrated, too often lost in our culture's pursuit of something novel or innovative. That's why an act like the High Llamas never receive their proper due. Inspired by the plush, majestic pop of Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach, leader Sean O'Hagan has fashioned eight albums of alluring, impeccably coiffed pop. Breezy like 1996's Hawaii, Can Cladders bubbles with a bossa-nova pulse, where cascading strings sidle up to a late-night beachside piano bar. Here, '60s girl-group pop puts the make on '70s soft rock, while space-age bachelor-pad music burbles in the background.

Clearly, it's not for everyone. There's an intentional slickness in the finely detailed orchestration that could provoke fear of diabetes in some. But step further inside the arrangements, and appreciate the wonderful choreography of sounds. On "Clarion Union Hall," doo-wop girls sashay over a bouncy organ that reiterates a melodic line from Gilligan's Island. Violins and a harp lay a swooning bed for the folk-tinged "The Old Spring Town," while the laconic British Invasion pop of "Sailing Bells" smashes headlong into a funky pop outro that recalls Bananarama's "Cruel Summer."

Then again, all this grandeur and sheen are almost red herrings, obscuring the clever craft of the construction.

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