Sunday, July 11, 2021

MEET... The Japanese House

English indie pop musician from Buckinghamshire Amber Mary Bain, more commonly known as The Japanese House, was taught to love music by her father. Also a musician he fostered her growth - leading to her arguable mastery of vocals, guitar, synthesizer and keyboard.

Bain’s choice of the nom de plume The Japanese House was inspired by a property in Cornwall where her and her family had stayed. During this week-long stay Bain had posed as a boy named Danny and their experiences there directly inspired the use of a gender neutral name. During Bain’s early career they avoided publicity and photoshoots but they never hid their identity online; social media accounts used their full name. The decision was merely inspired by a desire not to commit to a single gender. Eventually Bain became more public, growing in confidence, appearing in interviews and allowing photoshoots. 

They ‘didn’t want the mystery to become bigger than the music’.

And oh, what music it is, with cadences of those like The xx, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The 1975, in a combination that really shouldn’t work, Bain makes it work. They cited musicians such as Brian Wilson, Blondie and Franki Valli & the Four Seasons as influences, The Japanese House is self-described as a ‘modern day, more depressing ABBA’. This has a massive amount to do with the experimental blend between dream pop, electropop, synth-pop, indie-pop and alt-pop. However lyrically Bain’s music explores topics of love, solitude, personal trauma and growth.

Bain began recording at the age of 11, heavily influenced and encouraged by their father who fully supported her in her decision to later forego university in favour of pursuing a music career. He felt that there was a ‘clear opportunity’ for them, and turns out he was very right about that.

In 2012 Bain’s friend introduced her to Matt Healy of the 1975 and began subsequently working closely with the band. They shortly thereafter were signed to The 1975's label, Dirty Hit. This is where the intrigue surrounding The Japanese House really began. They had settled on the stage name with the prefix ‘the’ specifically because Bain had not felt ready to reveal their name or their gender. Bain entered the scene as a mystery. Therefore when their debut single ‘Still’ premiered on BBC 1 Radio with Zane Lowe March of 2015. The androgynous voice and avoidance of press photography further fuelled the speculation over who this artist was. In fact, after ‘Still’, fans speculated not only that it was a man behind the track but that it was a Healy side-project. Take a listen:

Bain went on their first tour as the opening act for The 1975 that same year. Later releasing three more singles (‘Pools to Bathe In’, ‘Teeth’ and ‘Sister’) The Japanese House compiled these to release their first EP, Pools to Bathe In, to favourable reviews. The titular single from their next EP, Clean, was released September of 2015 and premiered on BBC Radio 1 that same day, yet again receiving positive reviews from critics. Bain is gifted in their ability to blend danceable pop and the sound of the worst breakup you’ve ever been through; it’s music of contradictions but doesn’t feel forced.

Supporting The 1975 on their 2016 North American tour to promote I Like it When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, The Japanese House started gaining more notoriety. Bain was on their own way in 2017, headlining a North American tour through February and March. They later released ‘Saw You in a Dream’ which saw a more refined use of the layered tracks that are so quintessential to their music. The following EP was praised even for pulling back the production a bit and letting the vocals shine.

With all this success surrounding The Japanese House’s EPs and singles it was only a matter of time before a debut album was announced. Bain holed themselves up in the Wisconsin studio of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and created a 13-track album which was announced by Billboard on the 12th of November 2018. Said album, Good at Falling, was released on the 1st of March 2019 co-produced by George Daniel (of The 1975) and BJ Burton. Megan Buerger of Pitchfork called it ‘confident and intoxicating’ but did note that the melancholy of the lyric was occasionally exasperating. I understand to a degree where this exasperation comes from but have my own opinion to offer here. Bain’s musical style makes the most of her ability to upsell and process trauma. Take a look for instance at the song ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’, a song about their struggle with a past eating disorder:

As well as this, I think inadvertently Bain provides a good defence for this. In a separate interview Bain was emphasizing the importance of continuously creating and bringing out music outside of a traditional album release schedule: ‘I don’t think we’re at a stage now where everything has to be consumed in an album form’. So while the lyrical melancholy might be too much for some, try listening to the songs in isolation and you’ll recognize their individual brilliance.

There’s a lot to admire about The Japanese House. Dealing with an eating-disorder, overcoming alcoholism after the release of Good at Falling, not to mention that the music is only getting better as time goes on. Their newest EP released in 2020 saw an even more refined use of the tools she already had, while also adding more textured and sporadic layers to their song-writing. Take a listen to ‘Dionne’ featuring Justin Vernon from Chewing Cotton Wool:

So while we all wait for the pandemic to be over so we can go see The Japanese House live, Bain and their German shepherd Calvin will be patiently waiting and writing more intoxicating pop songs for us to listen to. And aren’t we lucky.

- Chloe Boehm



Image: Official album cover

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