The Japanese House – Good At Falling

The Japanese HouseWith a series of EPs already under her belt, Good at Falling represents her debut album, a confident leap forward for this artist who loosely operates within the terrain of synth indie-pop, but with a decidedly experimental and intricate edge. Labelling her album as one all about relationships – with others, and with herself – its delicately crafted sonic blend of organic and synth instrumentation is beautifully crafted, with Bain at the helm, but aided by The 1975’s musical mastermind George Daniel, as well as BJ Burton, with whom she completed much of the work at Justin Vernon’s isolated Wisconsin studio.

The title is a reference to the hit android game Thomas Was Alone, the narrator explaining how Thomas – an animated square – was ‘good at falling’. Bain saw this as a bittersweet analogy, how she copes with ‘falling’ after the break up of a relationship. “It’s one of the best (but hardest) things to be good at,” she explains. She’s also damn good at making bittersweet music, that stands up.

Good at Falling is a brave and honest work that details, in particular, Bain’s relationship with labelmate Hackman, a relationship that once bloomed, but eventually withered; although they have remained friends, Hackman even appearing in the stunning video for the serene and melodic ‘Lilo’, an album highlight. It’s about falling in love, with Hackman, which she was good at, but also dealing with and surviving the fall out. “Floating like a lilo with you / Going where the tide goes,” Bain sings in expressing that initial bliss.

Taken as a whole, Good At Falling is all about the time where Bain was seeking clarity, whether or not the relationship was right, and was working. The album begins with the experimental neo-soul ‘Went To Meet Her’, about the beginnings of that relationship, full to the brim with unidentifiable, almost incidental sounds, her voice heavily doctored by vocoder, as it is much elsewhere.

The upbeat pop-soul rhythms and grooves of ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’ is about being depressed and then finding a reason to live, i.e. love: “Now tell me something, is there a point to this / Or are we living for the feeling when we look back”. While ‘We Talk All the Time’ is underpinned by carefully crafted percussive sounds, and lyrically by uncertainty and change: “We don’t fuck any more, but we talk all the time, so it’s fine”. While ‘Follow My Girl’ is full of hope, and yet ultimately heartbreak, as Bain mournfully sings: “Nothing feels good, it’s not right.”

It’s not all about Hackman though, as the bittersweet Fleetwood Mac-style rolling groove of ‘You Seemed So Happy’ explores the crack between the image and the reality, between life and death, and about a close friend of Bain’s who died suddenly. ‘Everybody Hates Me’ is a beautiful, piano-driven journey through the panic and paranoia of near-permanent hangovers.

However, she returns again to Hackman, on ‘Marika Is Sleeping’, with a heavily doctored vocal, and warped strings, fed through a Mellotron, aided by Vampire Weekend-esque African guitar lines, while ‘F a r a w a y’ sees Bain reach further into expressions of intimacy, her love of The Beach Boys and 70s pop shining through.

Good At Falling is a triumph, of musicality, and stark honesty. Amber Bain has landed on her feet.

Jeff Hemmings