EP Review: The Japanese House - Chewing Cotton Wool

Jess Herbert reviews the latest from The Japanese House.

Jess Herbert
20th August 2020

The Japanese House has dropped her new EP, Chewing Cotton Wool, and it’s a melancholic dream.

Well, perhaps ‘new’ is an overstatement, as half the songs will already be familiar to long-standing fans. This is most notable for ‘Something has to change’ which has been doing the circuit of Spotify indie bops playlists for about a year now. But, even if you’ve heard it before, situated on this new EP, every track becomes recharged with an electric vibrancy .

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The first thing you notice about this new material is the album art, which looks like an outtake from an Ikea lighting catalogue, complete with the undercurrents of a feminist message as Amber Bain herself sits topless. 

This reclaimed femininity dominates the EP. The first track, ‘Sharing Beds’, opens with the whisper of a piano, soft chords with rounded edges, before Bain’s delicate vocal joins. There is an air of The 1975, which is unsurprising as she has previously worked with their drummer, George Daniel, and a haunting quality to her vocals. Finishing before the 2 minute mark, the track ends too soon, but this only whets our appetite for what’s to come.

Then ‘Something Has to Change’ bursts onto the scene, in juxtaposition to the fragility of ‘Sharing Beds’. Bain scrutinises a stagnant relationship, singing “it's the same thing / You're repeating yourself / And it's the same girl who's giving you hell” in a desperate frenzy to promote change. The song’s repetition represents the cyclical nature of failed love that the participants refuse to abandon. Despite the frustrating subject matter, The Japanese House has crafted the perfect alternative pop song - it’s catchy and concise, but retains the dreamlike idiosyncrasies that are unmistakably Bain. 

The outro sees the duo overlap and amalgamate in beautiful harmony

The only feature on the EP comes from Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver. Their collaboration on ‘Dionne’ is one of the few examples of a duo working together to successfully integrate both of their styles equally. The song begins with Bain’s elegance and simplicity, as she debates whether to reopen the wounds of a lost love. After each line there is a moment of silence as if to contemplate the lyrics - the most poignant of which are “I've been thinkin' about my storyline /And how your past becomes your present if it's always on your mind”.  After an emotive drum-roll, Vernon interjects with the chorus. It feels digital, as if it’s made out of binary code, not instruments, and rough to the touch. There’s distortion and chaos which intensifies, directly contrasting Bain’s subtlety; the distinction between their styles seems symbolic of the dilemma between letting go and keeping hold of heartache. But in the final few seconds, the outro sees the duo overlap and amalgamate in beautiful harmony, their voices blending and elevating each other. It is the standout of the EP.

Finally, we reach ‘Chewing Cotton Wool.’ If you swill it round your glass, you can smell the vulnerability - it’s haunting. Each word carries the memory of loss, embalmed in a hazy melody that leaves you with goosebumps. It’s a bold statement to close an album with such silence, especially compared to the EP’s vibrancy, but it perfectly summarises Bain’s talent. It’s sensitive, decadent and well-considered, which is a gorgeous reminder of what The Japanese House represents. 

‘Chewing Cotton Wool’ is a triumph and only has me on the edge of my seat for what Bain will grace us with in the years to come.

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