I think my favourite Lullatone album is still the first one, Computer Recital. For me, it's a record like Eno's Discreet Music -- one that never loses its power to charm. It tinkles where Discreet Music flutes, but they share something primally gentle. E*Rock gave me Computer Recital with a batch of Audio Dregs releases back in 2003, and it was easily my favourite of them. Already a fan of the "cute formalism" of Nobukazu Takemura's Childisc label (Lullatone would later record for them) and Raymond Scott's Soothing Sounds for Baby series, I was in a way the record's ideal listener.
My feeling about the three subsequent Lullatone albums (2004's Little Songs about Raindrops, 2006's Plays Pajama Pop Pour Vous and 2008's The Bedtime Beat, which Shawn just sent me) is that some of the techno purity has been lost: with the addition of Yoshimi's vocals, Lullatone has become an indie band. They almost sound like Kahimi Karie at times, but it's a Kahimi who's somehow no longer adult.
In other ways, though, the purity of the Lullatone project hasn't been diluted by a single raindrop. The band's abiding themes are sleep, childhood, charm, naiveté, cuteness and minimalism. And whether Yoshimi sings or it's just Shawn doodling with his Casio SK1, there's always something of the space visitor about them -- and something of Mr Spock about Shawn. The emotions, the problems, the experiences that make people adult don't seem to apply to Lullatone. They seem to have skipped them altogether. They're the very opposite of Emo.
Meeting Lullatone was one of the high points of last year's Japan trip for me. I found that in person, as in their music, they had some kind of shadow side offsetting the carefree naiveté. I don't mean that I think their lovely big white house in Nagoya has a torture dungeon -- I'm sure it doesn't. But Shawn did seem particularly -- almost suspiciously -- interested in building hypno-suggestion into his music. So I introduced him to Alastair, a hypnotist friend, who proceeded to freeze his arm using nothing more than a string of clichés about creativity and self-empowerment.
Recently something extraordinary has happened, something which proves that Lullatone are adults. Yoshimi has got pregnant. Heavily pregnant; she's due to deliver her first child in a couple of weeks. As one of the comments below the Flickr picture puts it, it's "such a surprise, i see you like two little kids".
Can kids have kids? Or are the childish themes -- splashing at bathtime, romping in pajamas, teddy bear music parades -- simply evidence that Lullatone (who married in 2005) have been putting together, piece by piece, the perfect child environment, the dream playroom? Yesterday, with these questions in my mind, I had a bit of a revelation. I was in a bookshop on Falckensteinstrasse, a place Hisae and I always stop at. It's beautifully designed, this place, and at the back they've laid out a little room with a kidzone, full of the kind of signifiers hip Kreuzberg parents want to associate with their children. There's a little table from OK, the cute 3rd World goods store on Alte Schoenhauser Strasse, showing people from all over the world laid out in an illustrative chart. On it lie books about anthropomorphised animals, but no crayons, just in case the kids are tempted to scribble on the merchandise. When I was in there yesterday there were no kids in the store, just this corner arranged "for kids", but actually, it occurred to me, a completely adult space, made by adults with adult ideas about childhood; what it is, what it should be.
It's time we accepted that "childhood" is something -- something benign -- that adults impose, sentimentally, didactically, on their offspring. It's an invention of adults. Left to their own devices, kids reject "childhood" at the earliest possible opportunity, embracing sex, drugs, cigarettes, guns and knives. The press reported the other day that victims and assailants in UK knife-crime are getting younger, from mid- to early-teens. The UK has seen a spate of child-on-child gun crime recently too. Of course, this reminds us of how childhood has become a class signifier: lower class kids get "adult" sooner, upper class kids stay children as long as possible. "Childhood" in this sense just means protection and privilege. Maybe the Falckensteinstr. bookstore laid out its child corner primarily as a class signifier.
But if childhood is something adult -- a particular arrangement of a room, a behavioural etiquette adults can use to relate to other adults -- where does that leave us? Well, it would certainly disarm the criticism that Lullatone are an "infantile" or "twee" band. Childish themes, for them, are what Modernism was to Mondrian, what sex was to Gainsbourg, what technology was to Kraftwerk -- a totalizing system, an etiquette, a radically-purifying regimen, a life-plan, a style, a belief. And just as child themes are really adult, tweeness embraced this wholeheartedly is almost a kind of machismo, a bold "Fuck you!" to harrowing cares, to conformist angst, to responsibility.
Nobody who was simply childish would drop references to Italian designer Bruno Munari (also referenced in the sleeve for my Ocky Milk album), and nobody who was simply sleepy would invoke Raymond Scott's experiments with minimalist lullabies. And we haven't even gone into the whole Asian cuteness-collectivism dimension -- the fact that Lullatone (like Scott's Manhattan Research) have set up a jingles unit called Lullatone Melody Design, to make music for TV and exhibitions. They've already worked with NHK and Chanel. When Lullatone are interviewed, it's not by Western music magazines, but by Marie Claire China, where they talk about their cute eco bags. The cuteness works perfectly with Asian commercial culture, because it's non-aggressive and appealing, an aesthetic that finds a common denominator in our collective consumerist desire to escape to the reassuring togetherness of toddlers. Clearly, though, no toddler could make a commercially-appealing version of toddler culture, just as nobody sleeping could make music which expressed the concept "sleep".
Lullatone are adults, all right -- one hell of a slick organization, and the cutest formalists in town.
It's time we accepted that "childhood" is something -- something benign -- that adults impose, sentimentally, didactically, on their offspring. It's an invention of adults. Left to their own devices, kids reject "childhood" at the earliest possible opportunity, embracing sex, drugs, cigarettes, guns and knives.
It's not as simple as adults imposing "childhood" on children. Anyone who has children will affirm that that they rarely accept lock, stock and barrel the culture that is "imposed" on them. And that there's a bootstrapping effect: ie the culture "imposed" on them is itself influenced by the culture that children create for themselves. There's certainly such a thing as toddler culture - you just have to go to a crèche and watch how kids interact with each other to verify that - but it's only partly mediated by the adults.
As for kids rejecting childhood when left to their own devices, I think you're mixing up two very different things. The toddler with his/her world of teddy bears and midday naps and all the rest is light years away from the pubescent/adolescent world - we're talking about two utterly different cultures.
As for Lullatone, they're about as childish as Picasso was a primitive African artist or Lichtenstein was a comic writer.
Momus, when are you going to get Hisae up the duff? I bet she's gagging for it. It would be great for this blog too - you could do Piaget-esque experiments on your offspring and we could look forward to the thoughts of Momus on lanuguage acquisition and child cognition etc
So you say, Mr Momus, so you say. However, I predict that at some point in her early thirties Hisae will get seriously broody and want a child, and then you'll be in a fine pickle. Because you'll be too old to be a groovy swinging single again, and in any case your options of scoring another 20something Japanese girl somewhat circumscribed. After a wrangle and a fair amount of existential angst, you'll finally agree to having a child. And much to your surprise and dismay, you'll actually love being a father.
Julian House is generally great - although if this is by him, it's not really his best work and it's somewhat derivative of his work for Broadcast. Wouldn't say he's 'the most expensive designer in London' though. I can imagine someone like Peter Saville charging far, far more for the prestige of having his work gracing one's music these days.
It continues the "Be Here Now" and "Wonderwall" tradition of mindless appropriation of neutered, de-contextualised 60s slogans and imagery. It invokes 60s radicalism (spiritual, countercultural, political) without conviction, without ideology.
This could be a Peter Beard montage or a cover for Jeff Nuttall's book Bomb Culture, but without the content. It's telling that Noel's only comment seems to have been that it was "expensive".
Noel as we know is a man of discerning tastes and in this choice of album cover design he once again leaves us fumbling for descriptive superlatives. We can twitter on all we wish on matters of aestheticism but the truth is what is most expensive is invariably the best and Noel time and again authenticates this maxim in his choice of fishing hats, blue jeans and rhyming couplets.
"Tweeish" music is a symptom of over-sophistication, like how the pastorals of Theocritus developed in the hyper-urban, globalized Hellenistic age. Simple and sweet on the outside, they're actually very complex and profound statements on the age in which they were made. It's the same thing with urban kid's games; it's a bunch of 20 and 30 year olds playing man hunt and kickball, but you talk to them and they usually exist on the higher end of the culturally aware spectrum. My only problem with it in the US is, right now we need our adults to buckle down and get involved in society at large, not escape from it.
Commenting recently on the prevalence of scare shows on TV about feral youth and weapon crimes, I mentioned that we might be fighting the wrong war on terror. There seems to be home grown tribal disaffection in the young by those who feel colonised and are open to older mentor indoctrination. There was a radio show last week on the BBC which considered the mindset which is ripe for extremist thinking and it is not a million miles away from some of our urban enclaves.
I always wondered why ninjas were so popular with the hiphop youth and why reference to the term was sometimes frowned upon. The TV shows and the staged pic above of the terror child are feeding a culture. It might not take, common sense may prevail but there does seem to be a hunger for this consciousness. I wonder how old it really is.
Left to their own devices, kids reject "childhood" at the earliest possible opportunity, embracing sex, drugs, cigarettes, guns and knives.
that's the thesis of lord of the flies isnit? and it's flawed; lame as it is battle royale is a valid upgrade on that. as for childishness and all i'd go for a deleuzian way of looking at it which would be something like becomming-child is not about acting childish or doing what kids do or are supposed to do but manifesting the child-qualities of whatever age-group you might be. (incidentally, i accidentaly happened to be listening, first time in probably decades, earlier today to what robert plant is doing these days and, from the couple of songs and a couple of pictures, it struck me that he's doing just that ; at least compared to any other rockster his age i could think of. very fresh and refreshing - no comment on the music itself though)
I feel like much of the adult-child posing leaves out an important fact: children are strange, often macabre, little creatures! It's the hypnosis interest you saw in Shawn. I guess I could be very "theory" about it and drop Lacan, who emphasizes the child's constant attempts at both innocent and violent "seduction" of adults in order to mark his/her place in the signifying chain. To me, that's the beauty of childhood, and the reason I valorize it, and want "kids to be kids": they're radically, bizarrely capable of ranging from the most absolute gentleness to the most sincere expressions of grief, rage, and all-out oddity.
Have you read John Skelton's "Phillip Sparrow"? 1545 - little girl writes sermon for her dead sparrow, Philip, "lately slain at Carrow" by her cat, Gyb. It's a great moment in the adult imagination of childhood - check it out!
I think that to a degree hypocrisy and protectionism are part of parenting, that said I tend to think of my own offspring more as potential adults than as children. I would prefer that my children grew up to be curious, reflective and considerate (in a collectivist sense) than aspirational, competitive and 'motivated'. As regards childhood being an artificial state created by adults, there is an element of truth in this and a wide world of corporations and businesses that reap fortunes from adults keen to provide the state of childhood they believe their children want. But there also a readily apparent contrary argument also. Children - quite rightly - enjoy playing at being Golding's little savages for an afternoon but whether those lazy, liberal parents like to admit it or not they also enjoy order, rules and routine. Curious little beasties, aren't they?
This is probably the moment to confess that I was a beastly little fascist when I was a child, far too much in love with rules, laws, regulations of all kinds. I formed an organisation called LEH (Law Enforcement Helpers) that existed to see that people observed all the bylaws in Lord Moray's Pleasure Gardens of Doune. I don't think we ever enforced any of them, though we did spy on people smoking, taking notes. This is probably why I'm now a big fan of the EU.
I think this behaviour is pretty normal in most nominally 'well-adjusted' children. Perhaps so-called teenage rebellion is in reality more focused against one's inner-pedantic-little-git than against one's parents.
As regards the EU, like many on the Left over here I'm having some issues at the present. I'm curious what your take on this is, personally I'm in agreement with Frank..
"...brings together people from the far left to the Catholic right "
Same thing happened in Spain. We went on an anti-EU constitution demonstration (nefarious piece of neoliberal claptrap that it was)... organsised by most the trade unions here. ISTR that either the day before or after there was another demo orgainsed by the right wing Falange de las JONS.
If that apparent 'common cause' of the left and right sounds worrying, I take solace in the fact that the demo we went on was against the market driven approach to the constitution and its effect on democracy, whereas the right wing were more upset about the 'lack of christian values' in the constitution, made by 'secular and masonic forces". Now where've you heard that line before?!
Interesting that the same phenomenon was observable in Spain, Eclectiktronik. To be honest my support of the No vote on the Lisbon treaty/re-worked EU Constitution sprang from very different reasoning to that employed by the main opposition groups in Ireland. These groups including the well-dubious, veiled-neo-liberal Libertas and those pretend-Marxists Sinn Fein (they do democracy fairly well but they carry a baseball-bat just in case). I could write at some length justifing my support of the No vote but to put it in brief I prefer a Europe of harmonious cultural and political symbiosis and cross-pollination than one of enforced, centralised, federalised homogeny. I also think that the EU's decision to implement the treaty without recourse to real democratic process (i.e. public referenda) in the other member states did I think make a No vote here imperative. Sarkozy's ill-considered comments yesterday, urging for a second Irish referendum have if anything caused people who voted for the treaty to move toward the No perspective. It would seem that the President of the EU in a moment of almost jaw-dropping arrogance feels that a 'states-united', imposed 'democracy' (which is of course no democracy at all) accounts for more than the sovereign will of a nation. Now THAT is disturbing....
Speaking of under-recognized music...Vh1's "Save The Music" is airing a tribute to The Who this weekend, just when it seemed they would be forever doomed to obscurity, thank god Vh1 stepped up and saved the music.