THE JAPANESE HOUSE: Pushing the Boundaries of Alt-Pop

By Alice Mansfield


Cultural appreciation isn’t a priority for most adolescents, ironic considering culture surrounds us on a daily basis. In a world that, for the youth, is so dominated by education, it’s time that we turned our attention to the less celebrated aspects of the curriculum, including art and music. Devoting five minutes toward cultural enrichment may broaden your horizons, or simply provide a refreshing break from the everyday. Why not start by reading about alt-pop artist, The Japanese House?

I was unsure as to whether music reflected or influenced our moods until I heard ‘Still’, when I realised that it had the ability to do both. Sitting on the floor of my bedroom, the location of many unexpected musical discoveries, I found myself listening to a song that translated everything I was feeling into layers of achingly beautiful synth pop. Multiple lyrics embedded within the production managed to mirror and change my emotions simultaneously, urging me to listen to the first EP of The Japanese House, entitled ‘Pools to Bathe In’.

Amber Bain is a 19-year-old Londoner who embarked on her solo project, The Japanese House, in 2015. While her songs pulsate with an intensity that is difficult to pinpoint in an age of chart monotony, her own presence is indistinct. It is her anonymity that adds to the allure of her melodies, allowing the listener to focus on the music as opposed to the celebrity. The combination of Bain’s heavily androgynous voice and layers of harmonies means that, initially, it is unclear as to whether The Japanese House is a male band or a female solo artist; her sound is indefinable yet reaches a diverse audience.

Bain’s lyrics are written with a maturity that belies her age. ‘Pools to Bathe In’ recounts how, “You go out and have your fun with my head in mine and my heart in your hands”, a line that, upon first listen, requires some decoding. To me, it is the reluctant request of someone who has dedicated themselves to another, who is controlled by their love. Popular music has a tendency to portray only the obvious emotions involved in love, whereas Bain manages to dig deeper, exposing the more complex, grittier feelings. The line, “You don’t want me back”, in ‘Sister’, is sung with a subdued desperation that many of us will have experienced. Many of the songs imitate water; the rhythms and echoing sensations mimic the sound of rain, and bring the same sense of cleansing. ‘Sugar Pill’ has a hazy beat that fluctuates in intensity, layering a multitude of textures.


Bain’s aesthetic corresponds with the eclectic sounds of her EP. Most of the images that litter her Instagram are pale and obscure, taken in Iceland; note the prevalence of blue and white. Even her vinyl is white. The marriage of her effortless look with her complex sound and lyricism makes for an unforgettable and entirely unique artist. Although it is a seemingly difficult genre to reproduce live, Bain’s shows are, I’ve heard, just as intoxicating as the recorded songs. Her 2016 tour will see her playing gigs from intimate venues in Brighton and Bristol to the O2 Academy Brixton.

It’s not often that you come across a song that seems to explain away your feelings, reassuring you that while they are real, they are not interminable. ‘Still’ is a song that I know I will come back to again and again throughout my life. When you’re young, emotions are often unclear and ambiguous, which can be perplexing to say the least. The Japanese House allows you to understand your feelings, which, in my opinion, is what an artist should do.