Sean O’Hagan “On a Lonely Day (Ding, Dong)

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Song from Sean O’Hagan’s “Radum Calls, Radum Calls”, available on LP & CD from Drag City on October 25, 2019.

Video animation by Musician and Artist Paperface.

Radum Calls, Radum Calls is Sean O’Hagan’s second solo album. His first came out in 1990, titled High Llamas – how’s that for paths taken and not taken! It’s clear we simply can’t know what the future brings. So, nearly 30 years down that once-was road, 10-12 albums of the extreme pleasures that High Llamas song craft and sonic obsessions have provided (counting a comp and a remix record, yeah?), here’s Sean again, with his second solo album. You may venture upon how it will sound, but you will delight instead to discover that Sean continues to modify, adjust, turn and amend aspects of his unswaying beliefs to produce sound fresh and new.

In the past decade, there have been two High Llamas albums. During that time, Sean’s day job has largely been in the studio, arranging and producing with other outfits – most recently, Mount Kimbie, Fryars, James Righton from Klaxons and Hockney. With other young talents on his wish list! The ways of the new generation are reflected in the mix of Radum Calls, Radum Calls, with bold latest obsessions side by side with the grand old traditions. As the parts old and new rotate inevitably back and forth in cyclical perfection, we are reminded of the beauty and craftmanship of the old cuckoo clocks; an ingenuity of cogs and gears to express perfect time as entertainingly as possible. Threaded in with exquisite melodies are hard-punching drumsounds, low rumbling synths, an extra-sharp dubby sound-design for percussion. In moments of this concision of old and new, Sean’s goal is honestly to conjur a new musical language.

Sean’s approach to lyrics reaches for the deft, tongue-in-cheek understatement of a LeCarre or a Philip K. Dick – and as fantasia melts into social portraiture into out-there sci-fi, we discover some of Sean’s most toothsome topics – The Paykan (Laili’s Song) tells the story of one of the Shah’s servants masking a dash for freedom at the dawn of the Islamic revolution in 1979 Iran. Spoken Gem and Candy Clock use the lyric interventions of Sean’s former Microdisney vocal-partner Cathal Coughlan to free-associate the listener into fantastic, elastic, unknowable worlds.

Sean working with Cathal, or with his backup singers May Robson, Livvy O’Hagan and Kelsey Michael, brings their participatory energy – that of joy – to the mix, and to our ears. And all this energy – derived from history, ambition, humour – is presented simply but effectively, sinking deep into our ears. Radum Calls, Radum Calls reaches across time, curating details from wherever its fascination lands, then working them into the harmonic flexibilities of Sean O’Hagan. The album is a light delight, and marks this place in time as a very pleasant stop on the way forward. (Copyright: Rough Trade).

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