REVIEW: The Japanese House, Good at Falling

Ah, the things I was going to tell you. I was going to tell you that The Japanese House take their name from a house that Amber Bain (ostensibly the one and only full-time member of the band) stayed in as a kid, a house owned by Kate Winslet. I was going to tell you that The 1975 are big fans, partial collaborators, possibly, influences, encouragers. I was going to mention frankly horrible vocoder vocals. I was going to mention Dido background dinner party music. That was the set-up of the whole piece. I might have thrown in that nepotism gets my goat, that I hate the fact that everyone who is famous is either related to someone famous (like those 1975 chaps) or friends with someone famous (like that twat Karl Pilkington). I was getting ready for an almighty sulk is what I was doing.

Then – something gradual happened. You should know (and please don’t judge me) back in 2004 I really liked Zach Braff’s Garden State movie. I liked it in part because I liked Zach Braff in Scrubs. I liked it in part because at the time I was big on The Shins. And I liked it in part because of the presence of Frou Frou on the soundtrack, a British electronic duo who seemed to implode before the film existed, producing a single album called Details and nothing more. The frontwoman of Frou Frou, Imogen Heap, has pursued a solo career, and has a very distinctive line in both her vocals and her lyrics. As I listened to Good at Falling, I thought Bain is a little like Heap. The vocals, the arrangements – enough to wonder if Heap is an influence.

This is how my mind went as I listened to ‘went to meet her (intro)’ (that aforementioned vocoder vocal horribleness), ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’ (mellow, London Grammar-esque sweetness with heaps of Heap inflections), ‘We Talk all the Time’ (a real melange of Frou Frou and The 1975’s quieter outings) and ‘Wild’ (the soundtrack to an amphetamine morning after). I basically went from hating the idea of The Japanese House to begrudgingly thinking Good at Falling was okay and listenable and possibly a grower and all of that.

Now – throw out everything you’ve read. Stop what you’re doing. Go listen to Track 5: ‘You Seemed So Happy.’ This song feels like a piece of magic to me.

It’s no understatement to say I’ve listened to this song about a hundred times this week. At this point in the album it’s a change-up. Slightly off-kilter French guitar, urgent vocal line that seems to dart about itself (I was going to write “like two swallows criss-crossing each others’ paths as they skim over the surface of a lake” then I caught myself on and decided to punch myself in the face for half an hour instead). It’s such a good pop song. Ah, I thought. Fuck shit wank. What are you doing to me The Japanese House?

After ‘You Seemed So Happy’, we revert to the synthy soundscapes we’ve been blessed with in the earlier parts of the album, songs that swoosh by you, washed in effects and sometimes (on ‘Everybody Hates Me’, say) you want to just remix things slightly, maybe simplify things a little to let the song shine, maybe encourage the vocals to be a little less fussy – but then at the same time for every overly ornate arrangement there is a song like ‘Marika is Sleeping’ which has about it the air of Stay Awake, the Disney covers album from the 80s which featured a to-this-day startling rendition of Little April Showers by Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant. Sometimes – on ‘Worms’, for example – it can swerve into Owl City territory, but for all that you get the sense that here is someone trying on different shoes and different hats and pushing herself in a whole host of different directions and that at some point it will all coalesce into something bright and shiny and interesting.

Good at Falling, then, is drunk with potential. It’s the kind of album you think might go on making more and less sense the more you listen. And Jesus but ‘You Seemed So Happy’ might be my favourite song of 2019 so far.


Words by Pete Wild.

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