The memorable times I fell hard, I ended up with major injuries. One time, I stumbled on a step and I broke my left wrist. Another time, I broke my right wrist busting a silly dance move on New Year’s Eve. As I sat in the emergency room both times, I beat myself up at how clumsy and uncoordinated I was. Both times, I admit to experiencing ridiculous pain. Reflecting the events in my mind, my ego was the bruised one that took much longer to heal. On occasion, the worry of repeating a bad fall can cause me to be overly cautious and unadventurous. Even though the visible wounds have healed, I guess I still haven’t fully recovered. It takes time.
In the debut album, Good At Falling, Amber Bain shakes off her own fall and examines the emotional pain of a crumbling relationship. She explains, “Falling can mean so much: falling in love with someone or falling flat on your face, feeling like your life is being destroyed, or falling out of love with someone. I always find myself doing that and being those things.” The album is a lens into her innermost thoughts over a span of several years. Collectively the songs are a bold emotional move from a singer who began her career shrouded in mystery and secrecy.
The Japanese House is the solo project of the Londoner singer/songwriter, Amber Bain. The band name was inspired by a vacation property with furnishings similar to a traditional Japanese tea house. On a childhood stay in the cottage with her family, Bain posed as a boy, calling herself Danny. A neighborhood girl fell for Danny and was heartbroken when she found out Bain’s true identity. Later, it heavily influenced the intentional androgynous beginning to Bain’s music. With altered vocals and very few published photos, listeners weren’t sure who was singing for The Japanese House. Now, after four EP’s and a debut album out on March 1, via Dirty Hit Records, Amber Bain can be more direct and truly be herself.
On The Japanese House debut, Good At Falling, her mysterious persona is stripped and she lays bare her experience of falling in and out of love, her own mental health, her crushing anxiety, and surviving it all. The album is an open and honest account of the past few years, gently re-examined in a wash of layered vocals, dreamy pop synths, and brooding electronica. Working with producer BJ Burton (producer for Bon Iver) and George Daniel (from The 1975), the album has an atmospheric, hypnotic quality tinged in upbeat pop. The emotionally led lyrics are layered with lush manipulated vocals, while balanced with surprising energy, full of ambient beats, guitar strums, and wondrous synth sounds.
Stand out tracks on Good At Falling follow a tangled storyline of young blossoming love and it’s altering stages leading to a break-up. “Maybe You’re The Reason” struggles with depression, not finding meaning in anything, and then looking at loving someone as the single reason to live. Although the lyrics are riddled with dark uncertainty, the music is catchy, upbeat, and hopeful by its addition of drumbeats, bass, and a sweet, sugary chorus. “Lilo” is a heart-wrenching tune that reminisces on love’s transitional stages. Bain began writing the song when her love was new and finished writing it as the relationship ended. The song begins with Bain’s sultry soothing vocals absorbed in deep attraction and progresses to oddly bending sounds suggesting the rippling water she is trying to navigate. The delicate chorus drifts in,
“You were floating like a lilo,
With your eyes closed, going where the tide goes,
Caught in flux, you drifted till you hit the sides
Hold my breath another minute
I can keep my head there’s nothing in it
I’m a patient wave
And it’s an easy ride.”
The video representation of this song features her ex-girlfriend Marika Hackman and their relationship, making the song more intimately authentic. It is passionate, tender, and melancholy. Bain’s expressive vocals enhance her clarity in hindsight as well as her fragile vulnerability.
In, “We Talk All The Time”, she is honest and harshly blunt with lyrics expressing her frustration of their fading love. “We don’t fuck anymore, but we talk all the time, so that’s fine.” The song’s swirling atmospheric synths intensify her confusion, indecision, and the ‘paradigm shift’ in the relationship. The ending continues to echo this, “Someone tell me what I want, cause I keep changing my mind.” The song has no defined finish but blurs and blends into the next song. “Wild” is a self-reflective piece, examining her own negative patterns and how they may have contributed to the breakup. It is a slower and quieter song with a wavering song structure. There are synthy bleeps, bloops, and beats forming a rhythmic pattern behind the tumbling self-analytical lyrics.
The poppy song, “You Seemed So Happy”, spotlights the divergent ideas in her head and lays out her irrational fear of death after her best friend died. Those obsessive thoughts would trigger debilitating anxiety and isolate her from others. Clearly, her self-examination can be positive by cracking the image she pretends to be and learning to live more honestly. “You Seemed So Happy” expresses the tension between Bain’s inner demons and what her fans and friends see. There is a bit of irony in the dark message mixed in a bouncy, pop song.
From “ Marika Is Sleeping” with its Disney-esque sweetness, to the 80’s sound of “Follow My Girl,” the album is diverse and has a pleasurable sonic sensibility. Throughout the thirteen tracks, Bain’s uncertainty and inner confusion remain a vivid theme. The shortest song, “f a r a w a y”, is a sweet love song. After examining the other songs, it seems to emphasize a hazy, resounding conclusion that answers aren’t always available, but time and space can bring perspective.
Whether it is falling and breaking a bone or a difficult break up, hurt can be life altering and provide a chance for new growth. She may not be completely healed after her fall, but she has taken an important self-reflective step by using her music to express her uncertainties. Her ability to take several years to create this album seems to be self-preserving and a cathartic gift to herself, and one which will be appreciated by all who listen. All of her songs to date have an emotional thread, but Good At Falling finds her personal voice more focused and less obscure. Here, Bain unleashes a powerhouse of hypnotizing vocals and carefully enhances them with her signature dream pop electronica. These songs represent important moments in her life and were carefully fused together to begin the repair and better her next relationship experience. Amber Bain’s new direction is clear and confident; she is good at falling in love, yet also good at surviving falling out of it.
-Originally posted on Soundblab February 28, 2019