“It wasn’t intentional, but I think I used female pronouns on nearly every song,” said The Japanese House’s Amber Bain in an interview with Billboard. In her newest album “In the End it Always Does,” released June 30, Bain effortlessly speaks to queer identity, longing and uncertainty with a sonic lightness that spotlights her gently affective voice.
Focusing on a lost adolescence in “Boyhood,” Bain slips between split selves, backed by a fast, echoing beat that takes on an upbeat guitar. Her voice gains traction as she searches for a self from an imagined life: “And I’m talking to myself again/ but I don’t know who I’m talking to/ I think it’s you.” When she mourns the freer life she could have had, Bain unknots a self-blame that arrives with the rising chorus: that if she had lived in her queerness earlier, she could have been a version of herself that might still be loved by her ex.
For all the genuine softness of the song, there’s a sharp longing in her voice that underscores absence, lining the track with a more serious but abstract loss. The song bends toward softer reflection between moments of ravenous regret, tender with questioning and grief. She grieves for what is undefined: the lives we are denied, the selves we never get to meet.
The album fully radiates Bain’s queer identity, sometimes gently but never subdued. “Morning Pages” features the queer pop group MUNA, the track undulating with a stripped-down lightness. The song opens with the untouched crispness of Bain’s voice before switching to MUNA’s Katie Gavin, each singer retaining their footing in understated softness while building off the momentum of the other. It’s a palpable trust and musical partnership that lets them deliver lines of such precise, intense feeling: “’Cause it’s like you are reading a book/ And her pages are turning so fast in a glance/ You can see how it ends and you wish that you couldn’t.”
The album has impressive range, using Bain’s expansive voice to draw out a slow, rich focus on identity and self. In “Indexical reminder of a morning well spent,” she cooly lists simple acts in short, full lines that loop to a sentimental guitar: “I bring myself around/ I leave my things around/ Look at this clip I found.” In “Spot Dog,” a jaunty piano melody shifts to dreamy guitar, then transforms with overlapping frenzied voices that feel floaty and dizzy and distorted. “Friends” begins as a fast-paced jealous pop anthem, but quickly breaks open to reveal ethereally humming and echoing electronic background vocals, still retaining the album’s quietly magical rhythm.
But it’s “Sunshine Baby,” more than any other track, that thematically glues the album together. Calling back to the looping choruses of earlier songs (“Perform my stupid rituals, everything is cyclical”), or discovering serendipitous meaning in a meta-conscious sort of way (“The feeling when the windscreen wipers line up with the song”), Bain questions how long she can keep living with ease when she doesn’t know how she should be living. As the song traces a slow guitar backing and dreamy vocals by the 1975’s Matt Healy, the album is conscious of the time-capsule quality of songs to preserve significant moments — and how fast life can snatch away meaning. Bain can enshrine these short-lived moments in song, but she can’t control her future.
The last track on the album sinks into a more despondent understanding. In “One for sorrow, two for Joni Jones,” Bain loses hope and realizes her relationship is over. With a fluttery piano intro, her voice takes center stage, drawn out by a pained, exposed vulnerability. Her epiphanic musing emphasizes lines delivered in crushing resonance: “No one’s ever gonna love me like this dog lying in my lap.” Alongside hushed, simple instrumentals, Bain sounds painfully, bluntly alone. When the song cuts from ethereal piano to the snap of sudden silence, it’s a shock — even knowing that in the end it always does.