The Japanese House seduced a transfixed crowd at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday night.
I started listening to The Japanese House earlier this year. “Saw You in a Dream” was tucked innocently between songs on a Spotify playlist — one I was admittedly skipping through mercilessly thanks to my millennial music A.D.D. — but as soon as Amber Bain’s lilting, melodic voice burst through my speakers, I stopped in my tracks. Her sound is raw but measured, emotional but reined in, young but somehow also wise far beyond her years. It reminded me of Imogen Heap in her Frou Frou days, but tinged with Dolores O’Riordan’s deliberate vulnerability.
Bain shares her label, Dirty Hit, with The 1975, another one of my favorite acts right now. Apparently, early on, Bain prefered to stay as anonymous as possible when releasing her music, prompting many to wonder if her androgynous, vocally-altered songs were a side project of The 1975’s Matt Healy. But apparently this mysterious veil had more to do with the fact that she was working out what kind of a musician she really wanted to be and how she wanted to present herself to the public than anything else. When she finally did emerge — as a baby-faced, messy-haired blonde 23-year-old in an oversized man’s suit — people weren’t sure what to make of her.
When she took the stage at the Masonic Lodge on Sunday, the room was packed, waiting with bated breath. Closest to the stage, young couples stood standing stuck together like horny Lego pieces, front to back. Further back in the crowd 30-something stragglers in leather jackets clutched red solo cups of pinot grigio and whispered to each other. But everything seemed to stop when Bain and her band took the stage.
The set started with “Face Like Thunder,” an upbeat electro-pop romance ballad in which Bain’s doubled-vocals harmonize with each other. On this tour, she’s supported by keyboardist Cicely Cotton and Kamran Khan (Fake Laugh) on guitar.
The set continued with “Somebody You Found,” “Swim Against the Tide,” and then “Cool Blue,” one of my personal favorites. The song’s melancholy vocals are offset by its syncopathic beat. During the song, pink and blue neon lights placed on opposite sides of the stage gave the band an almost 3D look in the smoky room.
Next came “You Seemed So Happy,” a new track called “Lilo,” “Follow My Girl,” which I absolutely love, “Still,” the moody and guitar-heavy “Good Side In,” and finally, my favorite (and arguably their biggest hit) “Saw You in a Dream,” followed by the downtempo “Intro,” “Maybe You’re the Reason,” and “Leon,” a song apparently inspired by Luc Besson’s beloved 1994 crime drama starring Natalie Portman. In lieu of an encore, they closed their set with an extended version of “Clean,” a poignant, downtempo track with Bain’s characteristic distorted, doubled vocals and evocative lyrics.
Even with her voice redolent of emotion, and complex, layered songs, Bain’s sweet, almost wholesome youthfulness is front and center whether she intends it or not. She’s 23 for god’s sakes. But she has plenty of time to become jaded and world weary. For now, I delight in the dichotomy of her sound and her image, her knowledge and naiveté. And I look forward to following her extremely promising career closely.
Words and photos by Stephanie Varela Rheingold