The Japanese House (TJH, as we cognoscenti like to say) is not a house, nor is it Japanese. More surprisingly perhaps, “it” is not a group, which was my expectation when I first came across it some years ago. Rather, it is a striking young woman, Amber Bain, and you can read the rather convoluted story of why she is called what she is called here.
She kept a low profile initially, to the point that the rumour on social media was that TJH was actually a side project for Matt Healy, main man of mega-stars the 1975. And on her first album, Good At Falling, you can see why that link was made.
Not only is it on the same label as the 1975, but the use of layered electronics, distorted and multi-tracked androgynous vocals, all applied to some pretty classic, dreamy and tuneful pop songwriting, does bring the band to mind. But while you could try to dance to some of the tracks here, TJH is generally more reflective and laid back than Healy’s bunch, with songs that float by pleasantly at first hearing. But lyrically they delve into emotions and take on the classic topics of heartbreak, discovering yourself and the joy / pain of being 20-ish in today’s world.
Bain is gay, and there is much here around her painful break up with Marika Hackman – another very talented British female singer-songwriter – titles such as “You Seemed So Happy” give us a clue there, but a song called “Marika is Sleeping” is even more obvious! But the heartbreak doesn’t overwhelm the album, and that first track for instance has a very pretty tune and a jolly mid-tempo vibe, with what sounds like a tambourine accompanying the chorus.
So, what artists from musical history does TJH bring to mind? Her chilled vibe, along with touches of a dance influence and purity of voice (almost folk-like when it’s not being autotuned) took me back to Beth Orton immediately - which reminded me to go and revisit that artist’s excellent and under-rated work. The dreamy mood reminded me of the Sundays, if you confiscated their guitars and gave them a few synths. I even got a bit of a Beach Boys feel at times.
But the closest parallel I came up with was Everything But The Girl and their excellent Walking Wounded album from 1996. (I recommend this recent re-review of that album from the influential if somewhat academic website Pitchfork, which led me back to it recently). But that combination of strong tunes, with slightly trip-hoppy dance, electronics and pop influences, and of course the strong female vocals, is certainly a comparator.
We’ve seen Bain and her House perform at Reading Festival and she came across as somewhat introverted but nevertheless was charismatic and very enjoyable. Apparently, during her recent live performances with a band she is getting more energetic, so we’re looking forward to seeing her at Reading again this august. All in all though, a very promising and enjoyable debut – 8/10 if I’m scoring.