The Japanese House Brings Sunshine to Montreal @ Le Studio TD

This past June, Amber Bain a.k.a The Japanese House released not just a great indie-pop record, but one of the best albums of 2023. Featuring co-production by George Daniel of The 1975, as well as contributions from Katie Gavin of MUNA, Charli XCX, and Matty Healy (also of The 1975), her sophomore album In the End It Always Does is a triumph in focus. Every instrument, lyric, and vocal fits perfectly in place over the forty-five-minute run time. Gorgeously produced, deeply personal and moving, ITEIAD shows Bain in peak form. To support her stellar album, Bain has been on an extensive tour across the United Kingdom and North America, with Montreal being the third to last stop. Joining her on tour is Quinnie, fresh off the heels of releasing her debut record earlier in the year, which garnered the attention from Pitchfork and DIY Magazine

For an opening act, you couldn’t ask more from Quinnie. It was an understated performance; she with two friends, sitting down and happily playing guitar. Despite singing at a relatively high pitch, I would hesitate to describe her vocals as sweet. The amount of honesty conveyed through her lyrics tinged them with just a hint of darkness, but not distractingly so. Quinnie and her bandmates were soft-spoken and charming, throwing out her broken tambourine parts midway through the performance and joking about guitar tunings. Highlights of their setlist included “man,” with its sharp and catchy lyrics (“no amount of nail polish could paint you a good man”), as well as the viral “touch tank,” which received a visceral reaction from the crowd. It was the start of winter, but her music gave the feeling of the changing seasons: the coziness of fall or the hope that comes with spring. 

If there was one word to describe how The Japanese House came across, it would be grateful. Whether it was grateful to be playing yet another sold-out show, or just grateful to be nearing the end of a lengthy tour, Amber Bain was not faking her spirit. It’s the kind of joy that engages the audience, pulling them into your world but still human at the end of the day. She wasn’t too chatty but she wasn’t too quiet either. That same spirit came through in the music. 

There was a blend of that same tightness present on the album but with a newfound looseness. “Friends” was already kind of a party anthem, but now with hundreds in the room and five instruments playing live (including a saxophone!), it felt more like that than ever. The use of crowd vocals in songs such as the opener “Sad to Breathe or Over There” was strong, replacing Bain's original background vocals with backing from her bandmates, giving warmth and texture only possible in a live setting. 

There were some setbacks, though. While the vocals were utilized well in “Over There,” the gentle nature of the song was contrasted heavily with drums that were too loud for the ambience it goes for. On the other hand, it felt like a missed opportunity not to replicate the noisy vibes of “Dionne” (originally featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver) and play it straight instead. Fortunately, the night ended with a high, piercing straight through the heart with a stunning encore rendition of the album’s closer, “One for sorrow, two for Joni Jones.” “Sunshine Baby” wrapped the night on a bow, and that was that. After playing thirty-six shows, I just hope Bain and her bandmates get some rest, it’s clear they deserve it.