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As The Japanese House, twenty-one year old Amber Bain has created a world of incredible depth and nuance. From the release of debut single “Still” in 2015 to last year’s ‘Swim Against The Tide’ EP, her auteur-like sound captures the pain and growth of displaced relationships, the emotion that comes from moving solitarily through life, and the clarity of understanding that can come afterward.
Though Amber’s work has long been rooted in personal experiences (the name The Japanese House was inspired by a childhood holiday, where she developed a crush on the girl next door) her latest release “Saw You In A Dream” is perhaps the most honest offering yet. Ushering in new, classic tones to her songwriting, with a focus on melody over production, the song breathes colourful life into the next stage of The Japanese House. On the outset, it could be a break-up song. Get deep into its bedrock though and the focus is revealed to be stark and personal.
Like the best songs in The Japanese House discography, “Saw You In A Dream” captures a specific moment in time and brings it to life for a new audience. “Saw you in a dream, you came to me / you were the sweetest apparition, such a pretty vision,” Amber sings, evoking the timeless yet sweetly detailed quality of the music. The song has a relatively dark subject matter yet the tone beneath the story brings shades of new light, favouring sun-dappled guitars and bright hues.
“It’s entering me into another stage of songwriting,” Amber explains. “It’s a very clear message: I didn’t want to drown my vocals in too many harmonies this time because the melody is quite strong on its own.” She continues: “Rather than to hide your sadness about your loss of someone, it’s a nice thing to be like ‘I miss them.’ That’s why the vocals are quite present. I’m down with being completely open now. The other songs I’m writing for the album will show that.”
Not that Amber hasn’t been open before. But what’s different is how direct “Saw You In A Dream” is. “It’s me finally reaching a stage where I don’t have to hide behind weird little metaphors or trying to be secretive with that whole aspect of things,” Amber explains. And now the theme of the music is clear, it feels more timeless than ever before.
Taught to play guitar as a child by her father, who was in a band of his own, Amber has always been immersed in the art of enduring acts like The Beatles, Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, and perhaps most importantly, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Today she’s listening to the likes of Burt Bacharach and ELO, studying how they make songs. “It’s weird trying to come up with something that feels like it’s existed for so long, but that’s what I was trying to do with ‘Saw You In A Dream.
Made up of four tracks which were all written at various points throughout Amber’s life, her last EP ‘Swim Against The Tide’ an impressive body of work. At once poignantly sad and contemplative, there’s also a dualism as it surfaces what sounds like deep breaths of opportunity. Recorded in London and Los Angeles, the EP tackles a smorgasbord of subject matter and sound. On “Good side in,” Amber exercises her talent with some classic and flowered playing on the guitar. The closing track “Leon” is inspired by the film of the same name. “I got obsessed with how, in the original script, Natalie Portman and Leon are meant to have sex,” Bain explains. “I didn’t know if that was right or wrong and I couldn’t decide. I felt like the boundaries between right and wrong were really blurred. No one knows how old she is.”
It’s on the EP’s title track though — Amber’s favourite — that all the interconnected stories of her music and the life experiences that inform it meet. The verses, Amber says, are about “losing someone in a number of ways — literally losing them, and having someone fading through your life, then coming back. It’s about them literally being a presence in your head.” Ultimately, it is about “the pain of falling for someone, and how the feeling of losing someone, loving them, and them dying are all kind of the same feelings.” In a way, it’s a prelude to this new track “Saw You In A Dream.”
The Japanese House presents an immersive, vast expanse. “Saw You In A Dream” only proves that Amber’s career will continue to grow. As Amber navigates that arena, going deeper and deeper, so too will her audience, as they embark on a journey of self-discovery together. The world of The Japanese House, a creation of Amber Bain, is waiting for you to dive in.