From the start of her career, singer-songwriter Amber Bain – AKA The Japanese House – has been told that she’s an enigma. Starting out in 2015 with a handful of anonymous EPs (some believed that the moniker, the name of a Cornwall holiday home she visited as a child, was even the side project of The 1975’s Matty Healy), her densely layered harmonies and warped instrumentals gave the music an obscure quality that made the so-called elusive artist hard to place.
But her debut album, 2019’s ‘Good At Falling’, was a chance to show just how vulnerable – and visible – Bain could be. Recounting the timeline of a cherished relationship with heart-wrenching candour, the singer reaffirmed that “there’s nothing about me that’s mysterious,” as she insisted to NME at the time, declaring: “I’m literally here talking about how I don’t have sex anymore in my relationship!” If that wasn’t plain enough, 2020 EP ‘Chewing Cotton Wool’ featured a topless self-portrait of Bain, a powerful statement on their gender, with the singer recently sharing in a press statement that they’ve “always wondered whether I’m trans or non-binary”.
Second album ‘In The End It Always Does’ sees Bain step even further into the light, born out of several big life events – moving to Margate for an ex, being in a throuple and the breakdown of those relationships. But while emotional ache lingers heavy on the new tracks, a much warmer complexion colours them. Branching out from her avant electro-pop roots, tracks like ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Touching Yourself’ trade the oppressive reverb that trembled through her debut for spry melodies that ripple against Bain’s witty contradictions (“I know I shouldn’t need it but I want affection / I know I shouldn’t want it but I need attention”). ‘Friends’, meanwhile – which is, not at all ambiguously, about threesomes – is a delightfully springy mish-mash of autotune and scrambled samples.
One of the biggest shifts, though, is Bain’s relationship with her own voice, which she refrains from cloaking in post-production tricks. From her bittersweet hum on the golden hour-bathed ‘Sunshine Baby’, (featuring backing from labelmate Healy), the indie-pop inflections of ‘Sad To Breathe’ or the sheer fragility of ‘One For Sorrow, Two For Joni Jones’, Bain has never sounded more lucid.
While the timid instrumentals of ‘Baby Goes Again’ and ‘You Always Get What You Want’ fly slightly under the radar, broader contributions from a small trusted circle – long-term musical collaborator George Daniel from The 1975, MUNA’s Katie Gavin (‘Morning Pages’), Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and producer/ engineer Chloe Kraemer – brings some distinctive new finishing touches.
If Bain’s lyrics are poised to pull you one way on ‘In The End It Always Does’, her voice and instrumentals yank you back in the other direction – it’s disorientating, dizzying and utterly intoxicating. If there’s one thing that the second Japanese House album reaffirms – it’s that the artist never surrenders any less than her whole self to the process.