Boomkat Product Review:
More electronic than its predecessors, 'Hey Panda' is The High Llamas poppiest, most vivid album to date, inspired by Khalid and Disclosure (!) and featuring Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Fryars and Rae Morris.
With a title track that references Sean O'Hagan's obsession with a carrot eating panda he watched on TikTok during lockdown, it's clear The High Llamas are leaning into mass culture on this one. 2016's 'Here Come the Rattling Trees' was still indebted to the '60s pop and exotica that had shaped the band's entire output up to that point, but here they sound driven by a different beat. O'Hagan's voice is often distorted by AutoTune - on 'The Water Moves' he sounds like a sunnier Rainy Miller, and on 'La Masse' he croons over an interpolation of the Super Mario theme - and his accompaniments are bright, breezy and unashamedly electronic. There's still a trace of exotica, of course ('The Grade' is a great blend of cruise-liner pop and contemporary R&B), but The High Llamas have evolved.
'How the Best Was Won', a duet with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, is probably the most striking deviation. Anchored by a skittering trap beat (really), the track comes off like Jeremih singing country in the style of blue-eyed soul, with a chorus that might be the theme from a children's song. It's not even the only Will Oldham collaboration either; the fabled folk revivalist crops up again on 'Hungriest Man', a cybernetic Dylan-alike that's best compared with Bon Iver's quirkiest cottage rap. It's all good fun, and when it works, 'Hey Panda' is effortlessly charming: 'Sisters Friends', a collaboration with Blackpool-born singer-songwriter 'Sisters Friends' sounds like Steely Dan jamming with T-Pain, if you can imagine it.