When I first heard the low vocal tones of Amber Bain, aka The Japanese House, coming through my computer speakers, I clicked next. Spotify brings out this sort of behaviour in me. I am often too focused on trying to find whatever earworm has taken hold to discover anything new. Yet, after one particularly hard day of job interviews, Katy Perry’s relentless perkiness just couldn’t cut it.
Eventually, after using up all of my precious, finite shuffles on skipping past Calvin Harris, I landed on Face Like Thunder by The Japanese House, and I stayed. The Buckinghamshire-born Bain named her project after a holiday cottage in Devon, owned by the actress Kate Winslet, she and her family had stayed in when she was a child.
Face Like Thunder is the biggest hit from the twentysomething’s newest EP, Swim Against The Tide. She may be making a name for herself on the back of this single but it is not the song that has stuck with me.
The melancholic lyrics of Cool Blue, which appears on her EP Clean, have had me humming under my breath since first listen. The sense of loss in the song mostly focuses on a failed, or transient, relationship. It begins with a romantic image, a partner waiting in the rain, but this initial show of commitment clearly does not pave the way for a lasting relationship. The track circles around a feeling of abandonment, introducing an overall sense of loss that is directed toward the self as well as the missing partner.
How can you wait in the wash of the rain?
You're soaked to your feet
Still, you said you’d wait for me
And these days, they grow so old
And I'll never show
I thought they knew
I'm fickle and slow, and I'll never do
Without the upbeat guitar melody and her echoing vocals, the lyrics might have landed on the wrong side of teenage angst. Instead, they strike the listener with a kind of honest confusion. While the emotions might be grounded in love lost, they also weigh heavy with a self-consciousness and insecurity.
I was up every night
A phantom of myself, beside
She rattled my bones
(Don't you think I fit the part?)
I'll never grow
It's all that I know
The song contains frequent derision of the self, for being ‘fickle and slow’ and unable to ‘grow’. As someone in their early twenties, this self-consciousness feels authentically painful. These lines reflect on a desire to adapt and expand as a person whilst being unable to change intrinsically who you are. It evokes a loss of self-esteem that often occurs after a break-up, when the brain begins to obsess on the ways it may have been the cause. The most poignant moments of the pared-back lyrics come from such moments, ‘I’ll never do’.
This cool blue water
In this feeling you brought to me
There's a cool blue heart you're keeping
Whenever you start to leave
The ‘cool blue water’ comes to represent both the overflowing feeling of being in one person’s presence and the ebb of them leaving – contentedness and disappointment in one image. Blue as a colour also comes to stand for the intimacy of the relationship and the broken heart it creates, a smart device in what could seem to be fairly simple lyrics.
In its mournfulness The Japanese House is infinitely listenable. The pop melodies keep her music from straying too far into Bon Iver’s territory of sadness for sadness sake, but her lyrics have a similar captivating emotional honesty. Her success can in part be attributed to the guiding hand of her co-producers The 1975. They are the Brit Awards' most recent Best British Band winners, and if their success is anything to go by, Bain has lots of hit singles to look forward to.
In one interview she described her music as like ‘a sad little puppy listening to Beyoncé to cheer itself up’. With Cool Blue already stacking up six million listens on Spotify, this sad puppy has clearly captured more ears than just mine.
Katie Fanthorpe is a poet and writer. She writes about film at The Big Picture Magazine and reviews games at The Digital Fix. She can be found tweeting @FutileDevises