The Japanese House of 2019 isn’t the same artist as the dreampop debutant who gained recognition for her first EP, Pools to Bathe In, in 2015. Back then, soloist Amber Bain’s identity was unknown and her auto-tuned, low-pitched, androgynous voice only added to her elusiveness. Now, with the release of her first full-length album, Good at Falling, Bain has lifted the veil: she’s finally shedding the mystery that’s surrounded her music, directly referring to real-life friends and lovers with first names and other specifics. Over heavy drums, woozy guitars, and mysterious synths, Bain details coming-of-age struggles — whether that be her own depression, her reaction to a friend’s assault, or expressing thoughts about her and her girlfriend (Marika) no longer fucking. It’s this pronounced intimacy that separates Bain from the banalities of her label-mates and mentors, the 1975 (though that group’s George Daniel produced this new album, and its frontman, Matt Healy, appears as a guest vocalist). Bain isn’t as interested in the obnoxious provocation that the 1975 are prone to either — however, she does repurpose some of the same, impressive production aesthetics across this full-length.
The earnestness with which Bain presents her own queerness — over familiar, dreamy keys, and hazy guitars — provides a striking contrast when put against the queerness-as-empty-aesthetic favored by label-mates the 1975.
What’s especially exceptional about Good at Falling is how assured and interconnected the project is from song-to-song; highlights like “Follow My Girl,” “Everybody Hates Me,” and “We Talk All the Time” all break out into explosive choruses that are danceable, while still retaining a melancholic ennui. But it’s Bain’s songwriting that really makes her standout: “I saw myself an intellectual,” she prophesies in “Lilo,” a roving, wordy song about drifting away. One of the most lyrically opaque cuts from the album, “somethingfartoogoodtofeel,” is also a standout track for its production, led by stampeding drums and a ton of inertia. At 23, Bain’s lyrical mastery of the concrete (“We don’t fuck anymore”) and of more poetic, verbose language set her apart, again, from other indie acts with a similar sound; she’s working through many of the same ideas, but there’s a great deal of sincerity to her approach — a uniquely developed perspective. In particular, the earnestness with which Bain presents her own queerness — over familiar, dreamy keys, and hazy guitars — provides a striking contrast when put against the queerness-as-empty-aesthetic favored by the 1975, to pick on that band one more time. Bain always remains true to herself, and to her own experiences, and so Good at Falling doesn’t register as some attempt to capture the zeitgeist in any grand way — and yet, while concerning herself only with what she knows, Bain in the process taps into a universal sense of ‘being lost,’ one that especially resonates with so many young people learning to express their own queerness.