Nothing good stays still for long, and no one knows that better than Amber Bain. Thanks to a winning combo of relative anonymity and affiliation with the chart-topping rock band The 1975, the UK artist who performs as The Japanese House frothed up nearly half a million listeners from a handful of Soundcloud singles alone. She hit the invisible and shifting target of hype that so many artists, even with money, readily miss. Those Soundcloud tracks boasted impeccable production, sure, but something in Bain’s voice deepened her early output beyond your average glossy studio cut. She sounded malleable, tough to pin down. She sparked curiosity.
Curiosity alone doesn’t have much of a shelf life, but with Clean, The Japanese House’s second EP of the year, Bain prompts more questions about herself and her work than she answers. The four-song release swirls in a fog of vocoders, synthesizers, samplers, and guitars, while Bain’s lyrics — simple, often repeated — draw you into the blurry edges of her persona. Her gaze rests on landscapes — clear, blue water, clean, bright light — that transform into people, and back again. On the polyrhythmic title track, Bain sings of being purified in the light of someone else’s gaze. Affection becomes an environmental phenomenon, something powerful and prone to mutation. “I knew it wouldn’t last/ But in the clean light you cast/ I was good,” she sings, her voice split, pitch-shifted, and layered, and somehow, at the end of it, whole.
Serene and spacious, Clean still carries itself with a sense of play that keeps it from getting too sleepy. It’s richly produced, full of squiggles and frayed edges, misplaced beats and twisting effects, all of which reinforce the natural imagery where Bain couches her language. In fact, it feels enlivened, not choked, by the professional touches across its surface. Take the hook of “Letter by the Water”, where a three-note phrase played on electric guitar ushers in Bain’s singing, clearing space for the notes she carves with her voice. The songwriting and its packaging reinforce each other. The content of Bain’s lyrics and the space in which she sings them seem inseparable.
Bain might not yet have built enough of a platform to support the weight of her project’s nascent popularity, but Clean at least proves that she’s got the resources necessary to carry that spark of curiosity over into real fandom. The Japanese House is preoccupied not just with aesthetics but with ideas: affection, desire, companionship, and how fragile all of them can be. Bain sculpts her full-throated longing into an inviting melancholy. Whether she can craft an even bigger emotional space will determine where The Japanese House crests.
Essential Tracks: “Clean”, “Letter by the Water”