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The Japanese House live in London: a songwriter transformed

Amber Bain’s journey from shadowy pop outlier to classic singer-songwriter appears complete at this vulnerable and touching gig.

4.0 rating

By Will Richards

The Japanese House
The Japanese House performing live at London's HERE @ Outernet (Picture: Sophie Vaughan)

When Amber Bain first emerged as The Japanese House with 2015 EP Pools To Bathe In, ideas of anonymity and mystery were projected onto her. The artist moniker was used so as to avoid gendered conversations around her music, but the idea of detachment became one associated with her for a little too long. “People liked talking about my ‘anonymity’ a lot,” Bain recently told Gay Times. “I find it funny when people think I’m trying to be mysterious, because I’m like, ‘What more do you want? Do you want to know my period cycle?’”

With her stunning second album, In The End It Always Does, these conversations appear to finally be over, aided by a sonic shift from moody synth textures to a sound dominated by earthy guitars and a singing voice stripped of most of the effects that defined early Japanese House music. At her London headline show at new venue HERE @ Outernet this week, the transformation appears complete.

The Japanese House
The Japanese House performing live at London’s HERE @ Outernet (Picture: Sophie Vaughan)

Across her 16-song set, Bain plays nothing from before her 2019 debut album Good At Falling, as if signalling towards a defined new era. Suitably, the songs on In The End It Always Does largely deal with ideas around change and the difficulties of moving on. “I’m trying to change myself but it’s tiring,” she sings on set opener ‘Sad To Breathe’, while on ‘Touching Yourself’, someone tells her: “If you think things will change you are kidding yourself.”

On album and set highlight ‘One For Sorry, Two For Joni Jones’, she reckons with feeling like a different person and not recognising the old you: “It feels something like I’m missing you, but also like I’m missing me.” For an artist who used to be defined by the hazy aesthetics and cloudy sonics, it’s the stripped-back moments of the set – ‘Joni Jones’ and the devastating love song ‘Chewing Cotton Wool’ – that allow Bain’s voice and stories to hit hardest. It points a path forwards to her finally being treated as the classic singer-songwriter she always was, and not a figure in the shadows.