Saturday 27 March 2021

Good at Falling/ The Japanese House (2019): Albums of my Life: An A-Z

...a time, maybe a year or two ago when I had more or less given up on finding new artists that I could get on board with. I'm from an era where there was Top of the Pops on TV and you'd go into Woolworths or Our Price to browse the chart music on a big wall and maybe pick up a single on cassette tape, or later a CD. That's not the world today, technology has changed the music industry inevitably and indefinitely. For years, I sourly declared myself out of the loop when it came to modern music because it was 'too generic', 'too auto-tuned', 'boring'. And in a sense, some of the mainstream chart music is that, but the very technology I berated for ruining the fun has over this last year or so opened my eyes to some incredible artists, those that sit on the periphery due to the lack of diversity in the charts. But then, within their genres, they are making massive waves and have huge fan bases.

I found Marika Hackman through Google Play after a fascination with the cover of Any Human Friend and like most long-lasting relationships, it took a while to fall in love. Once in, I was in. I was aware that that album was influenced by her split with Amber Bain from The Japanese House, and I dabbled in listening to a few songs, but, if I'm honest, my aversion to vocal effects (due to a saturation of them in chart music) made me less inclined to give my time to really listen.

Of course, it was an error of judgement on my part because The Japanese House, whilst having voice alteration as a trademark in her production, is far, far more than that. In fact, I would say that after much listening, Amber Bain is a trailblazer.

The EP 'Chewing Cotton Wool' came out last Summer and after a few listens of Something Has to Change, (a poppier number than some of the back catalogue), I was wanting more. 

Over this past year of lockdowns and uncertainty as well as emotional vulnerabilities, I have taken to savouring the healing power of a substantial walk. I have my routes in and around my local area and love nothing more than to use the time to listen to a full album. Amongst Hackman and Bain, I have fallen for Crumb, Arlo Parks, Let's Eat Grandma and Hers. I know that I will continue to discover more with time. It has been an musical awakening-- perhaps due to lockdown and a year or so of provoked introspection.

The irony is not lost on me that the very technology that I scorned, rather than destroying my deep passion for music, has opened my eyes to a whole world of new talent. It has introduced me to The Japanese House, an innovative indie musician whose songs have touched me deeply and made me feel slightly less alone in a world of restriction and stagnation.

The Japanese House are said to fit best within the genres of indie pop, dream pop and electro pop. The tracks are heavily produced with the aforementioned use of vocal effects applied to Bain's voice (lending to the androgynous quality on many of her tracks.) Bain plays the guitar (upside down as she is a left-hander who learned on her brother's traditional right-handed guitar as a child). She also plays synthesizer and keyboard on her tracks and is adept at producing her own music at home from her laptop. For me, this separates musicians from those that are skilled to multi-talented (and therefore worth sitting up and paying particular attention to.)

'Good at Falling' is the debut album after four EPs (which I recently own three of, plus 'Chewing Cotton Wool'-- released after the album.) Unusually for this series of music-related posts, I actually don't yet own a hard copy of this album. I was planning to write about another album until a few weeks ago when I was finding myself so influenced and moved by this one that I had to write about it.

What's so special about 'Good at Falling' then? A lot of it was written in the stages that eventually led to a breakup between Amber and her long-term girlfriend, Marika Hackman. I saw the video to Lilo in which Marika appears (after they had broken up) and it moved me to tears how they had so much respect for each other that they could come back together to act out their past relationship for the purpose of their art. The song is about the feelings and process surrounding moving on from a relationship. It is a beautiful, tender and heart-breaking song. Once you let yourself listen to it intensely, properly taking in the lyrics, it sticks with you. I can visualise where I was walking when I had this experience with it. It made me teary walking along, empathising with the sad acceptance of loss in the words of the song. It's such a haunting and pretty song, yet Bain's vocal range-- including her ability to hit those lower notes-- makes it also strong and comforting. Though relatively young, there is a humble worldliness to her writing.

There are some tracks like 'Maybe You're the Reason' and 'F a r a w a y', that hit the feel-good factor when it comes to their upbeat vibe; however, if you really listen there's a deep melancholy to them. As the tempo and poppy feel make you feel happy, it's quite disorientating to hear some of the content of the lyrics. Maybe the contradiction in the music is what has fuelled such an affinity with it; after all, many of us are contradictory by nature.

A real grower of a track for me has been 'i saw you in a dream', which is an acoustic version of a more accompanied version on the EP with the same title. I read that Bain had been most proud of this song when interviewed about the album, professing it to be the track that she felt was the best she had written. The song is a bittersweet end to an album essentially about heartbreak and self-repair. It reminds us that it is natural to dwell on the loss of love and that if someone meant that much to us (whether a lover, friend or family member), the grieving for them will understandably last and take on many forms.

1. Maybe You're the Reason-- that sweet contradiction I mentioned...
2. Lilo-- so beautiful
3. You Seemed so Happy-- another grower, but up there in my top tracks

... I feel like I need a friend to tell me it's ok to be sad. 

Also, I know I need to stop listening to this as much as I do at the moment because I want to keep it new and special. But then again keeping things new and special implies that you'll fall out of love with them and that is somewhat meta considering this album's themes! So, inevitably it'll be played and loved and enjoyed right now with the gut feeling that I'll cherish it forever, and that's all any of us can hope for.

'And I think I'm dying
'Cause this can't be living
Should I be searching for some kind of meaning?
Apathy's a funny feeling.   ('Maybe You're the Reason')

... blue. It wouldn't be a pale blue though, or a grey-blue, it'd be a azure. The order of the tracks on this album tell a story. In the song Worms, the penultimate track, there is a sense of re-birth and hope. Poignantly, it is followed by Saw You in a Dream: that bittersweet reminder of reality (in life, we are forever influenced by our pain)-- and there's that contradiction again. What might feel like just a dream, is a manifestation of the agony of missing someone. Despite the pain that permeates this album, Bain's lyrics reveal a spirit and strength that azure blue speaks of. We don't forget, but we move forward.

'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'/ Elton John (1973)
'Get it Together'/ The Jackson 5 (1973)
'Goin' Places'/ The Jacksons (1977)
'Glitter/ Mariah Carey (2001)

What is your favourite album beginning with G?

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