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“I know I shouldn’t need it but I want affection / I know I shouldn’t want it but I need attention,” sings Amber Bain – AKA UK musician The Japanese House – on “Touching Yourself”, a sad and sexy pop-leaning earworm about desire and heartbreak. Much of second album In the End It Always Does is contradictory like this: beginnings and endings, obsession and mundanity, falling in love and falling apart. It’s the perfect circular portrait of a relationship – with others, with herself, with an experience – hence the simple, circular album cover.
Written during a creative burst at the end of 2021, In the End It Always Does is primarily inspired by the events preceding it – including Bain’s first time moving to Margate, being in a throuple and the slow dissolution of those relationships. “[These two people] were together for six years and I met them and then we all fell in love at the same time – and then one of them left,” Bain’s remembers. “It was a ridiculously exciting start to a relationship. It was this high… And then suddenly I’m in this really domestic thing, and it’s not like there was other stuff going on – it was lockdown.”
The album came together just as that chapter in her life was falling apart, with each song almost acting as a snapshot in time. From the dizzying swell of album opener “Spot Dog” (a rework of the 101 Dalmatians theme, her exes favourite film) to the emotional gut punch of “Over There” (an ode to relinquishing the throuple) and the sugar-sweet pop hooks of “Sunshine Baby” (a bright, bittersweet acceptance of the end), so much of In the End It Always Does glitters and shimmers with the mixed feelings of finally letting go. “Love was never the issue. I never wasn’t in love,” says Bain. “But I realised I wasn’t in love with myself. We broke up when the album was done.”
Four years after her widely celebrated debut Good at Falling, this album sees Bain lean even further into the pop realm – with help from Matty Healy and George Daniel from The 1975, Katie Gavin from MUNA and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon among others. Bain credits Gavin especially with injecting her with creative energy and inspiration throughout. On the lush, lullaby-like “Morning Pages”, Gavin sings, “She’ll do that thing where she sits at your feet / And it used to be so hot, now it’s just sweet.” For Bain, these words gradually became her own. “She wrote a verse really quickly and sent it back, classic Katie-style,” Bain remembers. “At the time I was like, she’s writing about her relationship, and… I guess it became mine.”
The album isn’t all heartbreak and lost love, though. On “Friends”, an upbeat, dance floor-ready song about threesomes, Bain sings in warped, auto tuned vocals, “Do I think about her more than you? Do I touch the way you want me to?” It was light relief to write about being one part of a three. “So many parts of being in a throuple is hilarious,” she says now, laughing. “It was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. We’d go to a restaurant and be like ‘table for three’ and go to bed and be like ‘Good night, good night!’ It was very easy for me as a little unicorn to come in. And then suddenly I had two hot girlfriends.”
Elsewhere, on the layered, rhythmic pop track “Boyhood”, Bain turns the pen on herself, her voice floating over electronic beats and gentle guitar plucks: “I should have jumped when you told me to / I want to change but it’s nothing new.” What started as a song about how trauma becomes an inescapable part of a person soon became an ode to the complexities of gender and sexuality. “I started wondering about a boyhood that I never had,” says Bain today. “I’ve always wondered whether I’m trans or non-binary... I don’t know at this point. I say I’m gender non-comforming but that’s a bit of a mouthful. I don’t feel like a woman. That song is about all those things, and the overcoming of everything.”
One of the more emotional moments, however, appears on album closer “One for Sorrow, Two for Joni Jones”, a stripped-back track soaked in glimmering piano, named after Bain’s sausage dog, who is in turn named after Joni Mitchell. They had the vocal down in two takes, the first of which Bain was sobbing. “It’s the singular most intense experience I’ve had, in terms of writing music,” she remembers. “It was confirmation that my [former] relationship was definitely over. There’s that line ‘Sometimes I think life without you would lose its bones / But really I’ll still love walking in the park with my little Joni jones’ and it’s true… I am.” She’s come out the other end, but “I can’t listen to it a lot.”
The album also sees Bain work alongside producer and engineer Chloe Kraemer (Rex Orange County, Lava La Rue, Glass Animals), an experience she describes as “life changing” due to the unspoken, shared understanding between marginalised genders in a creative space. “I’d never worked with a woman or queer person [in that way] before,” Bain says. “It’s nice to have someone who completely understands your standpoint and shared experience. Also, I say ‘she’ in every song… so it’s important that someone understands that.”
It’s been nearly a decade since Bain’s break-out, in 2015, back when The Japanese House was rumoured to be everything from a Matty Healy side project to a mysterious unidentified figure shrouded in mystery and reverb. These days though, Bain’s sound and style is characteristically wide open, her vulnerabilities, thoughts and innermost feelings stitched into a tapestry of gorgeous, elevated pop music.