The best way to describe what The Japanese House are like is to imagine The 1975 if they were female and far less obnoxious and less confident. Amber Bain, who uses the stage name The Japanese House, is fantastically shy. She enters the stage after her two session band mates, a drummer and guitarist/keyboard, come on stage and start the first song ‘Clean’, off her recent EP of the same name.
The music is largely focussed around her velvetted, synth-layered vocals. The vocal delivery is surrounded by effects, so much so that it is hard to pick out lyrics, or even characterise her singing voice, the equivalent of wearing a balaclava to hide your face. Perhaps a lack of confidence, perhaps a style choice. Most likely the former. The songs are all melancholy with slightly depressing subject matter, apart from the uplifting ‘Cool Blue’. A highlight of the night, it provides the crowd one of the few chances to dance and enjoy themselves.
The drums are fantastic throughout, as is the bass and keyboard work. The most individual moments for the band occur when they go heavy electronic, with music that The xx would be proud of. Although breaking up the slow tone of most songs to become even slower, it does add a rather different sound to their catalogue of sounds.
Having already played eight songs, her entire released discography, you would forgive Amber for being finished. But, she promises one more song, ‘Leon’ – and it might just be her best yet. Lyrically, it is personal and intimate. “Oh kissing is so boring, there must be something more than that” hints at her lust for love and “when we fucked, it felt alright” is a blunt admission of boring sex. The best is saved for the end though: “I used to hate it before you go, I love the feeling just before you go down”. It appears Amber has mixed feelings about sex, and although speaking about sex acts is nothing new, speaking about cunnilingus in such a transparent, yet negative way, makes for interesting music.
So far, Amber does not offer that much music that is interesting and worth paying attention to. This gig represents a statement of intent, with talk of sex in the set closer, and uplifting (although largely pre-recorded) guitar in ‘Cool Blue’. If The Japanese House can work towards a more cohesive set of sounds in their music, Amber could be onto something special here.