Four years passed between the release of The Japanese House’s debut album, Good at Falling, and this year’s arresting follow-up, In The End It Always Does. Dropping just in time to perfectly soundtrack the summer, it is the kind of album that evokes cool, blue waters, gently lapping against your feet. In a live setting, however, it becomes a complete plunge into this world.
ITEIAD may be all breezy vocals and sunshine-laden guitars, but it’s a bitterly cold Manchester night when The Japanese House descends upon New Century House. Preceded by pencil, who deliver an intense set, it’s an evening already full of emotional weight. The band are an enigmatic watch, fraught with tension with each haunting turn of violin.
Before long, however, it’s time for Amber Bain and her band to take to the stage as The Japanese House and bring those vibrant waters to life. From the gut-wrenching first moments of ‘Sad to Breathe’, it is immediately evident that all the pain and anguish felt on those crystalline album tracks will be felt tenfold in this environment. ‘Touching Yourself’ is ever more vibrant live, its electro-pop chorus filling every corner of the room.
A smattering of older tracks make the setlist – ‘Follow My Girl’ is a particular highlight. ‘Boyhood’ might be a moment of sonic joy, in its colourful synths and thrumming beats, but the yearning and desperation in the vocals are more poignant than ever.
The gentility of the recorded versions of the songs fall away – instead of dipping a toe into these waters, it’s a headfirst dive. Swimming deeper into the world of The Japanese House is a delicious venture, one that makes each track hit harder and crash, wave-like into you. ‘Chewing Cotton Wool’ is a truly stirring moment; a saxophone solo and dimmed lights mean the already devastating track becomes even more so.
“Are you ready for a sad song?” Amber asks as she commences ‘One for sorrow, two for Joni Jones’. “You wouldn’t be here if not”. These songs are akin to a knife to the chest at times, but there’s a lot of beauty to be found in that. It’s a cleansing kind of set – there’s a catharsis to be found in each melancholic moment, as equally as in every upbeat, dance-encouraging spell.
The Japanese House provide a set that washes over you and pulls you under, but by the time the pure blissfulness of ‘Sunshine Baby’ rolls around, you’ve come back up to the surface to breathe, and found some clarity in the meantime.
Photo credit: Jay Seba