Sunday, 17 March 2019

maybe you're the reason: the japanese house at manchester academy

it goes without saying that i loved good at falling, the long-awaited debut album from amber bain, aka the japanese house, and despite having seen her live three times i was even more excited for the fourth at manchester academy last night, a venue i haven't been to for a good seven (!) years. 

with all my nostalgic memories floating to the surface, i was fully prepared to be an Emotional Wreck, and i wondered how i'd cope with hearing the older songs as they remind me of a time that was Not So Great.

however, upon entering the venue i didn't really feel anything because believe it or not, its appearance has changed somewhat since i was last there, so much so that we got lost trying to find both the toilets and the room where the actual gig was taking place. 

i did feel a brief stab of sadness, like a pain in the side, as we entered, but i quickly pushed it aside and made my way to the front as there was a space not quite at the barrier but still with an excellent view.

first on stage was fake laugh, which is the "side project" of "the london-based, berlin-born" kamran khan, according to this review of his self-titled album, released in 2017. he's also the bassist of the japanese house, something i only realised halfway through the gig. i didn't know much about him before the show, but did enjoy the set, his sound sitting somewhere between mac demarco and naturally, the japanese house. 

once it was over, i spent the next half an hour bopping along to prince and fleetwood mac - who formed part of amber's excellent pre-gig playlist - and agonising over whether to try and get directly onto the barrier, one foot poised and ready on the slightly raised platform should i decide to do so. 

then, as the final notes of everywhere faded away and the band took to the stage, i decided to go for it, and found myself officially at the barrier for the first time since i saw the courteeners at castlefield bowl in the summer of 2013. 

admittedly it was down to luck, as the venue was tiny and most people seemed more preoccupied with getting drunk than securing a spot at the front, but perhaps there's a poorly constructed metaphor in here about Not Giving Up. 

three years after i first saw amber supporting the 1975 at brixton academy, standing on tiptoe to get a better view, and again at both heaven and the o2 - lost in a sea of screaming fans - i finally managed to cut through the noise and land not quite front and centre, but still closer than i ever thought possible. it's an attitude i'm trying to retain as more rejections roll in and i worry that i may never find a job doing something i actually like (not helped by a flyer i got on the way out advertising a band called "desperate journalist"). 

all of these worries fell away for the next hour though as amber played songs old and new. first up was face like thunder, the bass rumbling in my chest, followed by 2015's cool blue

as i'd hoped, seeing songs like we talk all the time live totally changed my opinion of them, and despite not loving it first time around, i've had it on repeat all day. the next song was a similar story; somebody you found was never one of my favourites, but now i can't get enough of it. 

picking a favourite moment is hard because i loved every minute of it, but the new songs such as lilo, f a r a w a y  (which features backing from matty healy) and follow my girl really packed a punch. you seemed so happy provided a euphoric burst of joy, getting the already animated crowd moving, and i took great joy in yelling every word of saw you in a dream

if i had to pick a highlight, i'd probably opt for maybe you're the reason or leon, which for some reason has always made me weirdly emotional despite it being based around the characters in the film of the same name and bearing no resonance to my personal experiences. 

the final song clean - another favourite from 2015 - packed the most emotional punch, and i was left with a slightly sinking feeling as the lights went up, wanting to hear more. my only complaint is that she didn't play worms, one of my favourite songs from good at falling.

nevertheless, it finally felt like these songs that were once tied to a particular person were mine again and as amber says in lilo, it felt good, it felt transitional / a feeling i'd been waiting on. whatever emotions had followed me around in the days leading up to the gig simply fell away. 

as we made our way back into the bitterly cold night, i was reminded of this dork interview with amber, in which she was incredibly open about her depression and heavy drinking, topics i know about all too well - the hangover-induced panic of everybody hates me hits slightly too close to home - and how she's overcome these issues with the writing and release of good at falling. 

on the surface, it's an album about the break up of a long-term relationship, but scratch away the top layer and there's so much more. she strikes me as someone who's naturally introverted - in other interviews she's talked about being so anxious on stage she couldn't even make eye contact, but this clearly didn't seem to be an issue last night as she caught my eye a few times during the gig - and it's reassuring to see how she coped with this loss and came out the other side. 

having suffered more losses than i ever thought possible in the last year, i'm amazed i was able to set foot in that venue, in a city so inextricably linked to my oldest and closest friendship, and not fall to pieces. maybe this is what it means to grow up, to sit with yourself and realise that the world won't end, that new beginnings are possible, and though i shed a tear or two writing this, i feel a sense of peace with past, and these feelings are no longer weighing me down quite as heavily.

that's not to say they've disappeared completely, and it appears amber also took a more introspective approach to the album. as pitchfork's megan buerger said,"she doesn’t march right up to pain so much as circle it, admiring its scrapes and bruises as though they were works of sculpture."

it's a step forward though, one i felt incapable of taking just a few months ago. to quote amber herself in the dork interview, “you always think that if the worst thing you could ever imagine happening to you happens, then you’ll just die... you don’t. it’s weird because you don’t just die, you move on."

after being stuck in the same place for so long, i finally feel like i too am moving on, and i know no matter how far i fall, music will always be there to catch me.

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