October 8, 2022

Lullatone – Little Songs About Raindrops (Plop)

How do you feel about music boxes? And when exactly did toy instruments become the indie must-have? Me, I blame Björk.

Lullatone is a solo project by Shawn James Seymour, originally from the US, now based in Nagoya, Japan. Little Songs About Raindrops is nine little songs about raindrops.

In the wrong hands, it has to be said, toy instruments are awfully wincy – awww, look at the kiddies make the muse sick. In the right hands, though (Múm, Sigur Rós), they’re just another instrument, except they invest the music with that beguiling pseudo-innocence (why childhood ever became synonymous with ‘innocence’ beats me) that can transport you into some very strange states.

Most of Seymour’s collaborators are Japanese, so any potential mawkishness is mitigated by the firsthand exotic, and any strangeness somehow blunted by familiarity (all the tracks sound vaguely familiar, in a forgotten-lullaby kind of way). It’s hard for Western ears to adjust to – and properly hear – indigenous Japanese music (or any number of other non-Western musics, come to that) because it incorporates structures and scales and tunings that sound just too dissonant and alien to get a handle on. Seymour’s sensibilities are clearly open to the influence of his collaborators’ culture, though. He has a feeling for the minimal that suggests bonsai and the haiku rather than the postmodern. And at times, he makes his primitive percussive instruments (melded with the barest of laptop glitches and beats) resemble the organic – wind-chimes, the Aeolian harp – as much as the miniature gamelan. Personally, I look forward to the day when such a Japanese/American collaboration as this leans more to the western than the eastern Pacific. In the meantime, it gets closest here whenever the beguiling voice of Yoshimi Tomida – a kind of Japanese Valtysdóttir twin – emerges, flirting with those impossible Engrish words like a precocious schoolgirl.

Doubtless, there’ll be one or two hairy-fingered death-metal freaks with filed-down teeth out there whose cup of tea this album is just not going to be. ‘Twee’ and ‘unbearably’ are two words such a person might use. A lot depends on whether you’re more into Tinky Winky or Po (me, I’m more of a Bing and Bong kinda guy). If the splish-splosh song (track 8) doesn’t immediately get adopted by Rag Doll Productions, there’s no justice in the world. However, if you can still go ooooh at fireworks, or manage to raise a smile at a vanishing coin trick – if, in other words, there’s an ounce of potential for childish wonder left in that wounded old soul o’ yourn, I don’t see how this fabulous little CD can possibly fail to delight. I’ve had it playing for almost two months now, and I never tire of it.