The transient melange of emotions you experience during heartbreak – love, lust, loss and everything in between – is something Amber Bain tries desperately to hold on to. The English indie pop singer of The Japanese House finds value in remembering the cyclical phases of romantic relationships because “the idea that you one day won’t care about the thing that’s causing you pain is, in a way, even sadder than the idea that you always will,” she tells Document Journal.
Bain underscores this as the thesis of her sophomore album, In the End It Always Does. From songs about longing to the tender realizations experienced at different stages of a breakup, each track in her concert at Metro Chicago was an opportunity to bask in the art of feeling. Her Chicago pit stop took place on a gloomy Sunday sitting at the latter end of her North American tour, a leg that fully sold out of tickets.
Bain’s album was made with Chloe Kraemer, marking her first experience working with another queer woman, which she described as “life changing” in a press release. Songs on the track include vocals and creative input from artists like Matty Healy and George Daniel of the 1975, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Charli XCX and the song “Morning Pages” was made in collaboration with MUNA. Her music resonated throughout the venue with synths, quiet hums and percussion that echoes a tired heartbeat.
But before Bain started, two openers performed.
First was Ally Evenson, a Detroit-based singer-songwriter. Evenson’s songs were reminiscent of the sweet high-pitched vocals and melancholic songs of artists like Faye Webster and Searows.
In a white button down, black plaid skirt and loafers, Evenson looked like she had rushed out of a high school band practice to casually perform a gig at the Metro. She introduced her set as “songs for the mentally ill” and the crowd chuckled. It was an intimate performance, with just herself and a guitar on stage. Evenson’s songs were quiet hums that revealed heartfelt confessions and raw emotions. “I Can’t Feel (My Body),” is a tender reflection over the disassociation she experiences during panic attacks. In “Bite My Tongue,” Evenson explores her trauma from a past relationship.
Folk singer quinnie – artist of viral TikTok song “touch tank” – performed next with two people she introduced as her best friends: Hudson and Jake. Stripped of the production you’ll find in her flounder album and gold star EP, quinnie’s performance took on a much more folksy and acoustic feel: For many songs, her sharp vocals were backed only by her two friends playing guitar fingerstyle. quinnie was a treat to watch because the performance was unique in so many ways. Beyond the more acoustic take to her songs, she spent a large portion of her set performing unreleased tracks about coming of age, self-love and relationships.
Before long, it was time for The Japanese House to begin. The Metro lights dimmed and the members of Bain’s band slowly walked on stage as the glittering piano opening of “Sad to Breathe” began. After a cathartic song about loss, she performed the upbeat “Touching Yourself” while grinning into the mic and carried that energy into “Something Has to Change,” a song from her 2020 EP Chewing Cotton Wool.
Bain is a woman of few words. She’d only say a sentence between most songs – like simply saying “this song is for the gays” to transition from a previous song into “Boyhood” – and let her own honest lyrics speak for themselves.
I’m used to concerts where artists spend a lot of time interacting with the crowd, cracking jokes and allowing their personalities to shine through between the songs. For example, singer-songwriter Bruno Major spent each break describing the motivation and backstory behind the next song while duo Honne spoke about how much they had grown since their last concert in Chicago.
But something felt right about Bain’s taciturnity. Perfect for the introspective nature of her music, her quietness made the experience feel as if we were riding shotgun in her mind as it journeyed through the constellation of her emotions, rather than an audience being performed at.
The resounding theme of Bain’s songs is cyclicality. Whether it be the pattern of failing to fix mistakes – in “Baby Goes Again,” “I keep circling, can't stop a circle/But I keep coming back around” – or accepting that a relationship has come to its end – ”Putting off the end 'cause in the end, it always does” in "Sunshine Baby" – she provides an uneasy reassurance that all things, good and bad, will pass but also find their way into your life again in new forms.
Bain also performed classics. Her most famous song is “Saw You in a Dream” where she sings about longing for a partner after a breakup. The narrator laments over the fleeting moment of love they envisioned while asleep and tries desperately to hold onto the fading dream. “You were the sweetest apparition, such a pretty vision/There was no reason, no explanation/The perfect hallucination”
The concert was a sensory experience. From gentle synths to lights that fade in and out and in between warm tones, the whole performance felt like I was Remi from Pixar film Ratatouille in that scene where he tastes cheese with fruits and experiences synesthesia. Except it was also like a somber hug, or the feeling you get when you say goodbye to someone you know you’ll never see again.
Bain closed with “Sunshine Baby,” a song where she wrote each part at different stages of a relationship that eventually came to an end. Because of that, it captures a blend of optimism, defeat and acceptance. The outro has a euphoric sound of new beginnings with instrumentals similar to The 1975’s “About You.”
On a cyclical note, Bain left us right where we started after she walked off the stage. The interior lights of the venue lit up, but the tone of the room felt supremely different. We might end up right where we started at the end of things, but as her songs tell, we take all the beauty and pain from the journey along with us.