The Japanese House, a.k.a. Buckinghamshire’s Amber Bain, is one of the few new artists able to take full advantage of the streaming era’s evolving marketing techniques while still staying true to herself and not coming off as a manufactured pop artist. Though just now releasing her proper album debut Good at Falling, Bain has slowly built a loyal following by releasing four four-song EPs over the last four years which currently reach over 1.5 monthly Spotify listeners. For many artists, this sort of “milking the system” would garner an eye-roll. But for Bain, a 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter trying to break into an ever-confusing music industry (let alone trying to navigate adulting in general), the slow start seems a natural and mature move which has allowed for experimentation and growth in the formative stages of her career.
The four years of maturation have led Bain to “being more blatant, open, and frank lyrically” on Good at Falling, an album which intimately confesses her aptitude for falling in and out of love through her signature dream-like, synth-saturated musical immersions. On this record, it’s the “falling out of love” which commands Bain’s inner dialogue, inspired most directly by her recent breakup with ex-girlfriend and label-mate Marika Hackman. Though Bain’s Imogen Heap-inspired dream pop feels light and euphoric at surface level, you don’t have to dig too deep to hear the heartbreak and apathy darkening the album’s mood.
“Now tell me something / Is there a point to this? / Or are we living for the feeling when we look back on what we did and reminisce?” she begins on early highlight “Maybe You’re the Reason“, a song held in the hellish limbo between moving on to something better and holding on to what was already perceived to be perfect. Bain’s limbo is especially emotional as she continues to work with her ex, even featuring her in the video for lead single “Lilo”. Though it’s a valiant pursuit to maintain friendship in the wake of heartbreak, the effort takes its toll, as Bain relates on “We Talk All the Time“: “We don’t touch anymore / But we talk all the time, so it’s fine.” Here, the relatable hyperbole “so it’s fine” could otherwise be read as “my life is falling to pieces, and I wish I could disappear”.
Bain’s lyrics throughout the entirety of Good at Falling are unabashedly sorrowful and offer very little hope in and of themselves. But this exercise in vulnerability has led Bain to a deeper connection with her listeners and with those around her. “I hope they feel how I felt when I was writing those songs in some way. I hope that people feel connected, that’s what I hope most,” Bain told DIY. Indeed, it’s clear that the process of writing and creating this record has brought some finality to the gloom and heartbreak, cementing it in the past.
Though very little in Good at Falling‘s lyrics point to a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel, the production supplied by Bain and collaborators BJ Burton (producer of Low’s Double Negative and programmer on Bon Iver’s 22, A Million) and George Daniel (the 1975) lifts this collection of songs out of the mire and into the heavens. Whispering and buzzing synths and guitars wash over busy drums and percussive synth programming, delightfully filling every perceptible aural space. Headphones are
recommended required. The production on Good at Falling is certainly not leagues away from the Japanese House’s 2015 EP Pools to Bathe In, but that’s only because Bain has always been quite exceptional at what she does. However, it’s the maturation in lyricism and the ability to share herself with the world, which can only result from time and experience, that lift Japanese House’s full-length debut above her previous work. It’s a rare treat to see such experience fleshed out so early in a young artist’s career.