The unabashedly ambitious debut record from The Japanese House is filled with a melancholic heart, but lacking distinctive direction.
In 2015, aged just 19, Amber Bain’s Pools to Bathe In EP as The Japanese House instantly connected with a disjointed generation, confused at the daunting task of navigating modernity’s growing pressures. Four years later, Bain’s debut record certainly feels a long time coming.
“Lyrically, Good at Falling is beautifully narrated, whilst rich and expansive thematically”
Recorded partly in Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) iconic log cabin in Wisconsin, the Buckinghamshire indie-pop singer-songwriter enlisted the help of long-time friend and drummer for The 1975, George Daniel, and producer BJ Burton to create a record brimming with ambition. Lyrically, Good at Falling is beautifully narrated, whilst rich and expansive thematically, a result of the sizeable personal growth that Bain has undergone since first writing music just midway through her teens.
“The electro-pop chorus highlights Bain’s ability to inject a blissful ambiance into a somewhat jaunty electronic track”
Bain’s experiences with relationships and heartbreak around the heightened emotional period of her late teens and early twenties is dominant throughout the record. ‘We Talk all the Time’ is a commentary surrounding the breakdown of Bain’s three-year relationship with singer-songwriter Marika Hackman, an influential figure on the record. As Bain narrates the end of a physical relationship, she expresses a paradigm shift between her and Hackman. Whilst no longer a romantic item, the two still remain friends, with Hackman surprisingly appearing in the track’s music video. Musically, the electro-pop chorus highlights Bain’s ability to inject a blissful ambiance into a somewhat jaunty electronic track.
“‘Lilo’ impresses with its lyrical maturity whilst appearing hauntingly vulnerable”
A pinnacle moment for the record, ‘Lilo’, impresses with its lyrical maturity whilst appearing hauntingly vulnerable. A sense of serenity matches the track’s simplicity, allowing Bain’s vocals to soar to heights not matched on the rest of the record. Despite Bain’s split with Hackman, her calming influence has clearly improved Bain’s emotional and mental states of mind.
The expansive record allows Bain to convey some of the more emotional and mental difficulties that she has faced. ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’ is The Japanese House at her most vulnerable, retaining honesty and purity. A winding search for meaning and identity permeates the single with lyrics glossing over the choked-up verses. A shuffling percussion groove additionally provides the opportunity for injections of guitar and vocal desperation.
“‘I saw you in a dream’ is a serene offering, orchestrated perfectly in its delicate yet noticeable keyboard arrangement”
A beautifully effortless alt-pop track, mixing acoustic guitar with a simplistic drum combination, ‘You Seemed so Happy’ recalls Bain’s struggle surrounding extreme health anxiety whilst ‘Everybody Hates Me’, a track about hangover-induced anxiety, is a surprise of gargantuan proportion. A blend of electric synths cascade directly into the core of the track’s chorus, before instantly dissipating to allow a gentle flourish of keys and synths to caress aside Bain’s equally delicate vocals.
The acoustic ‘I saw you in a dream’ is a serene offering, orchestrated perfectly in its delicate yet noticeable keyboard arrangement. A gentle album closer, the single focuses on the sudden loss of one of Bain’s friends, who subsequently appeared to her in a dream, whilst musically the track entrances you into a dreamlike state before softly pushing you back to reality upon its ending.
“[The 1975] is diluting Bain’s original artistic brand”
Whilst The 1975 have a lot to be credited with in regards to the rise of The Japanese House, an issue with this relationship however is clearly apparent with how far their influence is diluting Bain’s original artistic brand. Good at Falling is at times structurally so similar to The 1975’s brand of indie-rock, that it fails to spark any newfound enthusiasm, falling flat at many decisive points in the album. The instrumental sections to the frustratingly restrictive ‘Follow My Girl’ for example feel almost as if they have Matty Healy and George Daniel dancing in the background. ‘Wild’ at first listen, also feels over-produced, with heavily distorted vocals and deeply contrasting sections offer little to be inspired by.
“Certain parts of the record cast a sense of uneasiness”
Good at Falling is a heavily ambitious record, looking to take a variety of influences and production styles, which doesn’t always pay off. Certain parts of the record cast a sense of uneasiness, but Bain’s natural ability as a musician, with the needed guidance of George Daniel, has allowed her to project vulnerability into predominantly funk-infused tracks.
“There is a strongly bipolar nature to Good at Falling”
Opening track ‘Went to Meet Her (intro)’ sees jazz-infused synths cascading amongst alternating percussion and heavily altered vocals, drawing comparison to the ambitiously produced 1975 track ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’. Without appearing iconoclastic, there is a strongly bipolar nature to Good at Falling, splitting the record between the predominantly synth-based and almost predictable first-half, to the no holds barred approach of the second-half.
Worms quenches the desire for flowing dystopian synth-pop. The unlikely combination of cyclical yet distorted musicality with Bain’s golden vocals is an unexpected surprise alongside the ever-increasing awareness of her surroundings and newfound stability. The soothing, jazz-infused ‘f a r a w a y’ challenges traditional boundaries of the melodic capabilities of most singer-songwriters. Emotionally matured and patient, the track sees Bain allowing distance to be a positive instead of a hindrance for a relationship, just yet another example of the deepening maturity of the young Buckinghamshire artist.
“[The] debut record is a hiccup for an artist bursting with creativity”
There is an argument to be had that Good at Falling, as a debut record, is a throwaway record. With four successful and concise EP’s under her belt, the record throws together a flurry of contrasting styles, production techniques and influences. At times, this combination is simply too much. Bain’s ambition is to be applauded, but the fragmentation of the eagerly-awaited debut record is a hiccup for an artist bursting with creativity. The confidence and maturity of Bain has grown exponentially however. The once introverted, quiet teenager has not quite blossomed as much as exploded with what feels like a lifetime of emotional twists and turns. Heartbreak, hope, love, and loss permeate the divisive record, and will hopefully inspire more material in the future.
Featured Image courtesy of The Japanese House Official Facebook Page.