The Japanese House – Oxford Times 10/11/16

The Japanese House – Sunday 30th October – The Bullingdon

Amber Bain, the brainchild of The Japanese House, is to be considered a new breed of composer. In the past our singer songwriters were cast onto stage with acoustic guitar in hand and expected to charm with stripped back, melancholic songs of love and loss. Production values such as vocal overdubs, guitar loops and electronic drum beats were alien to a world which asked nothing more than a simplistic melody and a pretty voice. Bain turns her back on this most traditional of musical viewpoints and, like many emerging artists at present, sees the intrinsic value in creating a more packaged, less systematic style of creation where heavily laden effects and nuanced textures play as crucial a role as melody and structure. The Japanese House join us on the cusp of releasing their third EP, Swim Against The Tide, which has certainly been the most widely anticipated yet with the track Face Like Thunder getting solid airtime and critical praise.

As Bain kicks off her set, with the help of two live instrumentalists, any concerns that there would be a difficulty to recreate what is beautifully produced music is quickly quashed as the gentle but impassioned songs flow through the audience like oil on water, resinating with a meditative and ebbing quality that has an ethereal, dream like effect on The Bullingdon crowd. Unfortunately as the show solidifies, it does become evident after a little scrutiny of the musicians on stage that a great deal of what we are hearing is in fact coming from the sound desk as apposed to the performers themselves.

This is particularly palpable when Bain forgets part of the vocals but the overdubs of her voice are heard continuing behind and appear to be contributing the lions share of the vocal work. It’s understandable that there is perhaps a necessity to use prerecords in live shows, the band have a budget and can’t afford backing vocalists, extra musicians and gear, but there is something impersonal and feigned about listening to prerecorded music live.

Perhaps it is an inevitable evolution that musicians are simply unable to recreate increasingly sophisticated production without leaning on the sound desk to provide backing tracks and overdubs. The quality of songmanship is impressive and immersive, Bain’s trajectory original and the overall feel compellingly understated. But the gnawing sensation that this is not, in a purist sense, a live show is frustratingly overwhelming and once realised cannot be unrealised.


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