Album Reviews

The Japanese House – Swim Against the Tide


If there is one figure which looms large over every moment of Swim Against The Tide, the new EP by pop songstress The Japanese House, it is that of Imogen Heap. With its glitchy beats, emphasis on textured electronics and distinct English twang running through a vocoder, the spectre of the former Frou-Frou vocalist is consistent and undeniable. While the disc never actually manages to escape from Heap’s shadow, it’s still a surprisingly solid slice of ambient dreamy music.

Japanese House frontwoman Amber Bain has described her output as “a sad little puppy listening to Beyoncé to cheer itself up” and that’s actually a surprisingly accurate summation. There is this ever-present lingering sadness and longing and it seems as though Bain wants to find some kind of comfort or release from these feelings, she too afraid to allow anyone in to help her. This conflict is given extra heft when viewed in the context of the pop-inflected instrumentation which manages to merge the most jubilant aspects of the genre with this icy cold detachment.  

In spite of the fact that is a four song EP, there is a surprising amount to go back to, not least of which is the actual music itself. The focus here is on building atmosphere and mood over straightforward pop and that is a big reason for so much of the joy the record offers. Be it in the form of the strings and vocoder work on “Leon” or that trebly as hell guitar that slices through the mix on “Face Like Thunder”, there is a good deal of meat on the bones of these songs. Those  gorgeous melodies feel so handcrafted and considered, that is hard not to appreciate how solid they are.

While it is derivative of Imogen Heap, The Japanese House’s Swim Against The Tide is a worthwhile investment. There is a gentle beauty on each song and an emotional frankness that ensures that even as those swirling synthpop tunes rise and fill every iota of the mix, the humanity is never snuffed out. Will Murphy