Sean O’Hagan, part of the Stereolab community, has explored the world of pretty, lyrical music—cocktail music, Pet Sounds Burt Bacharach, bossa nova—with a sly, experimental sensibility. Cold and Bouncy emphasized his affection for icy minimalism—even when making expansive music—and 1999’s Buzzle Bee was his most open, user-friendly album, with everything put in service of songs. Can Cladders isn’t as daring as the former nor as memorable as the latter, but it has the charms of both. Like a pop scientist, O’Hagan assembles seemingly disconnected musical ideas that are consistently appealing and melodic, but by doing so, he raises questions about what a song is. If the mismatched pieces hold together or seem to cohere, is it a good song? Is it a song at all? Will breathless “oooohs” and strings obscure the songs’ fragmented nature? The loose transitions from musical thought to thought? How much work will a pretty refrain do? If a melody is pretty enough, is lyrical content necessary? And will any of these questions occur to a listener after hearing the album three times? Will these questions ever occur to listeners? Is there anything beauty can’t obscure?
As intellectual as all of that sounds, the fun of the High Llamas and Can Cladders is that they deliver both simple and complicated pleasures, albeit for those with the taste for lush, sweet music.