The Japanese House

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The Japanese House
Bain at The Wiltern on 12 October 2019
Bain at The Wiltern on 12 October 2019
Background information
Birth nameAmber Mary Bain
Born (1995-07-13) 13 July 1995 (age 25)
OriginBuckinghamshire, England
Genres
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • synthesizer
  • sampler
  • keyboard
  • guitar
  • bass
  • drums
Years active2012–present
LabelsDirty Hit
Associated acts
Websitethejapanesehouse.co.uk

Amber Mary Bain (born 13 July 1995), known professionally as The Japanese House, is an English indie pop musician from Buckinghamshire. Bain contributes vocals and plays guitar, synthesizer and keyboard for her music. As a teenager, Bain decided to pursue a career in music, having been taught music from her father during childhood. She began writing music under the moniker the Japanese House in 2012, after being introduced to Matt Healy of the 1975, who offered to help produce her music under the label Dirty Hit. She first rose to prominence after the release of her first single, "Still", which was a critical success and premiered on BBC Radio 1 presented by Zane Lowe.

Bain's androgynous vocals, heavy use of production, and elusive media presence fuelled fan speculation about her gender and identity after her first few singles were released. In 2015, Bain released her debut EP Pools to Bathe In and the follow up EP Clean. These first two EPs were rooted in indie pop and synth-pop, and included experimentation with genres such as dream pop, folktronica, and electropop. She toured with Dirty Hit labelmates the 1975 and Wolf Alice in 2015 and 2016 before headlining tours of her own.

Her fourth EP, Swim Against the Tide (2016) was influenced by 80s synthpop and technopop. Saw You in a Dream (2017) saw her continued experimentation with different genres of electronica and rock. Bain co-produced her first full-length album Good at Falling (2019) with George Daniel and American record producer BJ Burton. Her fifth EP, The LA Sessions (2019), featured live recordings of reimagined tracks from Good at Falling and Saw You in a Dream.

Early life[edit]

Bain is from Buckinghamshire, England.[2] As a child she was taught music by her father, who was also a musician.[3] She continued practicing and recording music throughout her childhood. She began recording music at the age of eleven, when she visited her father's house. As a teenager Bain decided to pursue a career in music rather than going to university, a decision which her father supported as he felt she had "a clear opportunity".[4]

Career[edit]

2012 – 2015: Early career, Pools to Bathe In and Clean[edit]

Bain performing in Los Angeles in December 2016.

In 2012 Bain's friend introduced her to singer Matt Healy of the 1975, who she was dating.[5] Bain began working closely with the 1975,[6] and signed to their label Dirty Hit.

Bain settled on the stage name the Japanese House because she did not feel ready to reveal her name or gender.[7] As a result, very little was known about the Japanese House when her debut single "Still" was premiered on BBC Radio 1 with Zane Lowe on 2 March 2015.[8]

Bain's androgynous voice and avoidance of press photography fueled speculation about her gender and identity.[9] After the release of "Still", there was widespread speculation that the singer behind the Japanese House was a man, and some fans even speculated that it was a side project of Healy's.[10] Bain went on her first tour as an opening act for The 1975 in 2015.[11] Bain subsequently released three more singles. "Pools to Bathe In" which was released on 25 March 2015 and "Teeth", released on 8 April 2015. The EP's third single, "Sister" was released on 21 April 2015.[12] Bain's first EP Pools to Bathe In, a compilation of her four previous singles, was released on 27 April 2015 to favourable reviews.[13][14]

Bain performing at the Wiltern in October 2019.

The titular single from the EP Clean was released on 7 September 2015 and premiered on BBC Radio 1 that same day.[15] The EP's second single, "Cool Blue" was released 15 September, followed by "Letter by the Water" on 27 October 2015.[16] The final single, "Sugar Pill" was released on 3 November 2015.[17] Clean was released on 6 November 2015, and received positive reviews from critics.[18]

2016 – 2017: Swim Against the Tide and Saw You in a Dream[edit]

On 26 September 2016 Bain released "Face Like Thunder", the first single from her upcoming EP Swim Against the Tide.[19] Bain stated that the EP's title was inspired by the feeling of falling in love and losing someone, saying "[it] feels like you’re swimming against the tide. In a sense it’s a struggle".[20] The track received favourable reviews for its emotional subject matter and melodic beat.[21]

Bain released Swim Against the Tide on 11 November 2016.[22] She supported the 1975 on their 2016 North American tour to promote their second album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It.[23] The Japanese House headlined a North American tour beginning on 21 February 2017 and ending on 28 March.[24]

On 26 April 2017 Bain released the single "Saw You in a Dream".[25] The single was noted for using fewer layered tracks, and having a starker, less production heavy sound than many of Bain's previous songs.[26] The full EP Saw You in a Dream was originally scheduled for release on 16 June 2017 but was released on 30 June.[27] The EP was praised for showcasing the evolution of Bain's dreamy style, with strong vocals and a more reserved use of production effects.[28]

Bain on 27 October 2019 during her Good at Falling tour.

2018–present: Good at Falling and Chewing Cotton Wool[edit]

Bain released the single "Lilo" on 27 September 2018.[29] After the release of "Lilo", the Japanese House announced a North American tour in December 2019.[30] On 12 November 2018 Bain released "Follow My Girl", the album's second single. That same day, Billboard announced that the Japanese House's debut album Good at Falling was to be released on 1 March 2019.[31] The album was co-produced with George Daniel (of the 1975) and BJ Burton.[9]

Upon its release, Good at Falling received mostly positive reviews.[32] Megan Buerger of Pitchfork called it "confident and intoxicating", although she commented that its melancholic lyrical content almost exasperated her at points.[33] Bain announced her second Good at Falling tour in the US for October and November 2019.[34]

Bain released the EP The LA Sessions on 8 August 2019. The LA Sessions featured re-imagined tracks from Good at Falling and Saw You in a Dream which were recorded live in Los Angeles.[35] On 27 September 2019, Bain released a single titled "Something Has to Change", and announced an upcoming extended play of the same name.[36] The EP was announced to be released in November 2019,[37] but was delayed into early 2020.[38] On 22 November 2019, she released a single titled "Chewing Cotton Wool."[39] On 10 August 2020, Bain announced that the EP, now titled Chewing Cotton Wool, was to be released on 12 August 2020.[40] Bain released the EP on 12 August 2020.[41] It featured four songs, one of which was a collaboration with Justin Vernon of indie folk band Bon Iver, as well as the previously released singles. Upon its release, Chewing Cotton Wool received praise for showing further growth of Bain's signature lush, hazy production, introducing more textured and sporadic electronics.[42]

Public image and anonymity[edit]

A traditional Japanese Tea House

Bain began producing music professionally under the nom de plume "the Japanese House". She has stated that her reasons for using a pseudonym include not wanting to be defined by her gender and wanting to avoid the public eye. The name "the Japanese House" was inspired by a property in Cornwall, England in which she and her family had vacationed at during her childhood.

The property had been previously owned by Kate Winslet, with furnishings reminiscent of traditional Japanese Tea houses, which inspired Bain's musical moniker.[43] During her week-long stay in the cottage, Bain posed as a boy, calling herself Danny. Her experiences there directly inspired the use of an anonymous label for her music as opposed to the use of her own name.[44]

During her early career, Bain avoided photo shoots and publicity which, combined with her androgynous vocals, led many outlets to label her as an anonymous artist. After the release of her debut EP Pools to Bathe In, fans speculated about her gender and identity, with some even claiming that the Japanese House was Matty Healy of the 1975.[10]

Despite the shroud of anonymity which surrounded the Japanese House, Bain never hid her personal identity online. In a 2019 interview she noted that her official social media accounts even used her full name, Amber Bain.[45] She eventually became more public, appearing in interviews and photo shoots, stating that the reason for this was that she had become more comfortable with being in the spotlight and "didn't want the mystery to become bigger than the music".[46][47]

Amber Bain is known for her androgynous style and wavy blond hair which has been compared to that of American musician Kurt Cobain.[48][49] Megan Buerger of Pitchfork described Bain at the beginning of her career as "a soft-spoken, queer 19-year-old girl with Kurt Cobain hair and boyish style".[33]

Artistry[edit]

Influences[edit]

Bain has been compared to pop acts with strong melodic styles such as the xx, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys.[50] She has been compared to the 1975 with whom she has toured, particularly band members Matt Healy and George Daniel who helped produce many of her tracks. Bain has cited musicians like Brian Wilson, Blondie, Bon Iver, and Franki Valli & the Four Seasons as influences on her work.[3][51] In a 2019 interview with W Magazine, she described herself as "a modern day, more depressing ABBA".[52]

Musical style and themes[edit]

Bain's vocals are often compared to Imogen Heap (left) and Victoria LeGrand (right)

Pools to Bathe In was a synth-pop album, and her subsequent releases have prominently incorporated synth-pop. Her experimental musical style also contains dream pop, electropop,[14] synth-pop, indie pop,[53] and alt pop.[54] Andy Meek of Billboard described Bain's discography as a combination of experimental electronica and "catchy pop hooks backed by drums and chugging guitars".[55]

Her later releases were increasingly influenced by art pop and rock music. Saw You in a Dream was a yacht rock album,[56] while Good at Falling was influenced by rock and art pop.[57] She is known for her atmospheric tracks and moody lyrical themes.[58] Max Migowksi, writing for Indie Mag, summarized Bain's musical style as "[an] androgynous voice embedded in ethereal, post-indie pop synths with hints at gentle acoustic guitar".[59]

Many of Bain's releases explore themes such as love, loss, solitude, and personal growth.[5][4] Her later releases have been favorably compared to her first two EPs, with critics noting the more mature lyrics and refined composition of Swim Against the Tide and Good at Falling. Bain's debut album Good at Falling was praised by its critics for its dark, heartfelt lyrics and light, pop melodies.[60]

Voice[edit]

Bain's singing voice has been compared to both contralto and tenor, and has been especially noted for its androgyny.[45] Critics have favorably compared her vocals to Victoria Legrand and Imogen Heap,[61] though Bain rejects comparisons to Heap.[62] A distinctive feature of Bain's discography is her use of layered harmonies, often three tracks or more, which simulates the effect of a vocoder.[63] Her use of overlapping harmonies to create "a kind of thick, organic Auto-tune [sic]" has been praised for lending depth to her tracks.[64] Alice French of Varsity called Bain's vocals one of the highlights of her performance.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Bain currently resides in East London,[2] and has a pet German Shepherd named Calvin. She has been open about her struggle with alcohol abuse, and stated that she became sober after the release of Good at Falling. The song "Maybe You're the Reason" from Good at Falling deals with her past struggles with an eating disorder, and this subject is also depicted in the music video for "Lilo".[65] Bain was in a four-year relationship with singer-songwriter Marika Hackman until 2018.[66] Hackman later appeared in the music video for "Lilo".[67] In a 2019 interview with W Magazine, Bain stated that she is currently in a three-way polyamorous relationship.[52]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Title Details Peak chart positions
UK
[68]
Good at Falling 64

Extended plays[edit]

Title Details Notes
Pools to Bathe In
  • Released: 27 April 2015
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Formats: 12",[73] digital download[74]
No.TitleLength
1."Pools to Bathe In"4:20
2."Teeth"3:56
3."Still"3:18
4."Sister"3:44
Total length:15:18
Clean
  • Released: 6 November 2015
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Formats: 12",[75] digital download[76]
No.TitleLength
1."Clean"5:00
2."Cool Blue"3:50
3."Letter by the Water"3:28
4."Sugar Pill"3:24
Total length:15:52
Swim Against the Tide[77]
  • Released: 11 November 2016
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Formats: 12",[78] digital download
No.TitleLength
1."Swim Against the Tide"3:41
2."Face Like Thunder"3:57
3."Good Side In"3:49
4."Leon"3:35
Total length:15:02
Saw You in a Dream[79]
  • Released: 30 June 2017
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Formats: 12",[80] digital download
No.TitleLength
1."Saw You in a Dream"3:28
2."Somebody You Found"3:33
3."3/3"4:00
4."Count to Nine"9:00
Total length:20:01
Spotify Singles[81]
  • Released: 26 July 2017
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Format: Streaming
No.TitleLength
1."Face Like Thunder" (Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC)4:14
2."Landslide" (Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC)3:53
Total length:8:07
The LA Sessions[82]
  • Released: 8 August 2019
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Format: Digital download
No.TitleLength
1."Lilo" (LA Session)3:34
2."Somebody You Found" (LA Session)3:41
3."You Seemed So Happy" (LA Session)2:46
4."Everybody Hates Me" (LA Session)3:00
Total length:13:01
Chewing Cotton Wool[83]
  • Released: 12 August 2020
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Formats: 12",[84] Digital download
No.TitleLength
1."Sharing Beds"1:49
2."Something Has to Change"3:11
3."Dionne
(featuring Justin Vernon)"
4:44
4."Chewing Cotton Wool"3:29
Total length:13:13

Singles[edit]

Title Year Album
"Still"[85] 2015 Pools to Bathe In
"Pools to Bathe In"[86]
"Teeth"[87]
"Sister"[88]
"Clean"[89] Clean
"Cool Blue"[90]
"Letter by the Water"[91]
"Sugar Pill"[92]
"Face Like Thunder"[93] 2016 Swim Against the Tide
"Swim Against the Tide"[94]
"Good Side In"[95]
"Saw You in a Dream"[96] 2017 Saw You in a Dream
"Somebody You Found"[97]
"3/3"[98]
"Lilo"[99] 2018 Good at Falling
"Follow My Girl"[100]
"Maybe You're the Reason"[101] 2019
"We Talk All the Time"[102]
"Something Has to Change"[103] Chewing Cotton Wool
"Chewing Cotton Wool"

Music videos[edit]

Title Year Director Ref.
"Clean" 2015 Juliet Bryant [104]
"Cool Blue" [105]
"Letter by the Water" [106]
"Sugar Pill" [107]
"Face Like Thunder" 2016 Gareth Phillips [108]
"Saw You in a Dream" 2017 Lucy Tcherniak [109]
"Lilo" 2018 David East [110][111]
"Maybe You're the Reason" 2019 Harvey Pearson [112]
"Something Has to Change" Nadira Amrani [38]

References[edit]

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