The Japanese House // The Wardrobe, Leeds // 04.11.16
When I first saw The Japanese House at Camden’s Dingwalls in February, she was a nervous and awkward performer. Among her set were still-to-be completed songs, and Amber Bain did little to engage the mellow audience with her interim conversation. Only seven months later, nineteen-year-old Bain has a new found confidence and it shows instantly. Bain now addresses her small audience as though she’s been doing this for years; “This is going to be great!,” she exclaims after her opening track. She’s clearly been influenced by touring with fan-favourites The 1975 and Wolf Alice, but manages to retain her own identity. Her use of multi-part harmonies creates an interesting sound on record and even more so live.
The intimate opener ‘Clean’, from her EP of the same name, provides the perfect backdrop for the set to come. The refrain with its memorable lyrics “From the movements you made / and the soft gaze you gave” has the small crowd singing along in an instant. This track takes a less polished style live, making it feel closer and more personal while electronic harmonies grip and mesmerise every crowd member. From the onset Bain makes her live show differ from her recordings, whilst retaining the defining qualities that drew people here in the first place.
She moves into ‘Teeth’, which may come across as slightly harsher on record, but with the aid of the live band consisting of drums and keys it’s made into a far more delicate affair. Since signing to indie label Dirty Hit, Bain has been able to make use of a live band for the first time, an entirely new concept to her; but in her live show she effectively adapts studio versions and exploits the tools now available to her. The sombre mood continues as the band move into ‘Sugar Pill’ which successfully contrasts a mellow piano loop with an upbeat melody. A personal favourite of mine, ‘Sugar Pill’ has the audience in total silence, hypnotised by Bain’s musicianship.
Bain moves smoothly into the immediately recognisable melody of ‘Pools to Bathe In.’ Melodies give way to magnetic breaks, creating an atmosphere of total immersion. She then introduces a newly released track, ‘Swim Against the Tide.’ The sporadic snare of the verses provides a contrast to the chorus, which strips Bain back to almost just her layered vocals. It’s comforting to see the new tracks playing out just as well as the others.
Continuing with the water theme, the set moves into two tracks from the Clean EP, ‘Letter by the Water’ and ‘Cool Blue.’ With moody overtones, ‘Letter by the Water’ sets up a distinction with the upbeat chorus of ‘Cool Blue.’ For the first time in the set Bain really lets herself go, as she dances around the stage with her bandmates. This energy is quickly brought back to focus with the haunting layered vocals of ‘Sister.’ Her ability to flicker between moods so quickly is admirable.
The band move into a string of three songs from Bain’s latest EP, Swim Against the Tide; ‘Good Side in’, ‘Face Like Thunder’, and ‘Leon’, all of which are received well by the audience. ‘Face Like Thunder’, in particular, employs a poppy sound whilst keeping Bain’s authentic haunting vocals.
Set closer ‘Still’ left me and surely many other crowd members feeling truly satisfied. The set was a surprising showcase of Bain’s varied melodies and distinctive style – in just a year, she’s achieved a distinct performance style, and certainly looks set to continue to grow as an artist.