When I was in middle school, I wrote a science paper from the perspective of a water droplet to prove I understood the water cycle: evaporate, rise, cool & condense… I got rave reviews back about the emotional turmoil of my water droplet as she was ripped from her family’s river current to the sky in a spectacle of sundering.
It’s this kinda encouragement and enabling – like my AP Psych teacher allowing me to submit homework in poetry – that has made me so woefully metaphoric. I still remember when I got my International Relations thesis back: “flowery as usual,” wrote my grim advisor in ironically gorgeous cursive. It was its red ink that held the warning.
Because of this—and that the grass is always greener—I’ve always been somewhat gloriously attracted to all that is simple, understated, and short—so much so that I can’t wait to say too much about it.
The Japanese House, project of Amber Bain, with her new album, In the End It Always Does, reminds me of both the simple poetry of life, and, oddly, of my little water droplet.
Reflecting on a breakup, Bain travels through the cycle of reminiscing, yearning, rebounding, regretting, introspecting, and ultimately returning—though a little changed.
Although the album crosses many tonal shifts—from sprinkling, experimental opener “Spot Dog” to dance-beat “Touching Yourself,” and ballads & odes—the general journey feels rather like a ride above the clouds, looking at the weather down below with a certain detachment. If it rains—as the sound of somber “Over There”—we watch the darkening blue and grey, the flashes of lightning, almost reservedly, retrospectively, as if only passing by.
Where do you wanna go?
Did you wanna get some air?
Do you like it over there?
The frequent use of smattering piano is a short frenzy like a sudden gust or breeze, a little turbulence compelling the otherwise smooth ride forward. Or in the midtoned, slightly dissociated chillwave songs, it’s almost as if the electronic flourishings come to scatter the mind awake in a dreamlike Hiroshi Yoshida cloudscape.
For the detached sound, there are certainly songs with shocking vibrancy, like the prior mentioned “Touching Yourself,” and standout lead single, “Boyhood,” who has a swirling, rushing-to-fall beat, as if the sky sparkled with a sudden meteor shower, streaked with UFO lights, and popped a few fireworks. It even includes the hallmark of a joyful ode: a little violin jig. Likewise, the other forward, louder songs like “Friends” and even “Sunshine Baby” gain a groundedness, nearly beachy in quality:
I wanna be a part of it, I wanna sing along
The feeling when the windscreen wipers line up with the song
Perform my stupid rituals, everything is cyclical
Hold on to this feeling ’cause you won’t feel it for long
Though many of the lyrics make it clear this album is about an ex, the imagery and lyricism around cycles is consistent: Bain proposes with both a frustration and awe the absurd way in which we cycle through joy and pain. About “Sad to Breathe,” Bain says,
The other songs – “Morning Pages,” “Indexical reminder of a morning well spent,” “Baby goes again,” and the back end of the album closers – mellow out into full but light pieces, like journal pages brought to life, fluttering against the wind into whatever sound flows best. Bain seems most at ease in this flow state; in the context of the album, there’s a little halcyon home for the songs who aren’t begging to be bridged, and chorused into radio oblivion. There’s plenty of white space, cytoplasm—room to breathe.
I keep circling, can’t stop a circle
But I keep coming back around
At least I keep coming back around
Ultimately the album cycles too, the finale ending on that piano smattering that tepidly, jazzily tests its legs in intro “Spot Dog.” And our narrator, through going through all the many fond memories, lets go into something of a bit of peace—through “Friends,” through “Sunshine, Baby,” and musical expression.
The feelings having condensed and poured, they return to the earth and suddenly evaporate away.
Because like nature, Bain proves that our seemingly world-ending emotions follow their own physics too. That eventually, whether we’re ready or not, we’ll move on. The feeling fades, till we’re foolish enough to fall again.
In the End It Always Does.