The Japanese House – O2 Academy – 9/5/17
Alan Turing, godfather of theoretical computer science, created a set of questions which would test a machines ability to exhibit intelligent and rational behaviour. If the Turing test had musical capabilities and The Japanese House’s robotic, multi layered production were to come under the scrutiny of such an examination, you feel the likelihood would be that Amber Bain’s work to date was in fact that of JapHaus 2000, a soulless, tin toaster spewing out metallic music for disillusioned droids. However, a reprieve will surely be in order if her live sound has a more humanoid resonance and can strip away the layers of corrugated iron to reveal an industrious brain and pounding heart.
For the most part of The Japanese House’s foray into alt indie rock, there is indeed an ambitious and dexterous pulse, Bain using every pedal, drum loop and harmonising technology at her disposal, so much so that her Flatley-esque footwork is as much to be admired as her stirring songwriting and expansive live sound. Indeed, the latter is particularly impressive and often throughout the show one finds themselves wondering which musician on stage is responsible for this hum, that sound or that other noise with a definitive answer hard to come by.
The reliance on technology certainly somewhat limits the emotive qualities of the music as everything is stringently tied down to an authoritarian click track which refuses to allow the respiratory system to ebb and flow. After a little while there’s an unwarranted claustrophobic sensation, a palpable feeling that the sumptuous nature of Bain’s music is somewhat caged by the totality of the metronome. If the music didn’t rely so heavily on triggers, loops and an abundance of electro-guff, the songs themselves are easily well nourished and educated enough to stand on their own two feet without the need of their postmodern pushchair.
As much as The Japanese House is brave and audacious music, it feels like Bain is rushing past the simplicity of her music to create a fragmented and uber-contemporary conclusion. With her obvious key influence being Bon Iver, she could remember that Vernon’s work, although now terribly convoluted, began life as stripped back and acoustic which has developed new prestidigitation throughout its long career. By jumping straight into complex drum loops and over production, Bain does her well written and genuinely emotive music a disservice.