Helsinki Lambda Club - Tourist
As a foreigner to a country, it is often difficult to establish a new life in an unfamiliar place, especially one with a strong insider/outsider dynamic like Japan. It’s notoriously tough to get close to Japanese people, and all the fellow foreigners you meet often end up leaving after a time. Unless you manage to really settle down, it’s pretty typical to move from place to place, making great friends and losing them, while unable to truly understand and be understood by the majority of the population.
So as I listen to Helsinki Lambda Club’s second album “Tourist,” it’s somewhat surprising to hear Japanese people going through a similar experience even in their home country. The band profess to being outsiders (although they’re from western Chiba), and express their troubles fitting in. With the key theme of the album being “moving in/out,” songwriter and lead vocalist Hashimoto Kaoru examines the problem with moving - not only does it disrupt existing relationships, it’s hard to start new ones as a stranger in a new place. On “マリーのドレス” he tries earnestly to make another date but the girl’s already turned away from him to leave, while on “Jokebox” they can’t even get started. Even a girl he once knew has totally changed, to the point where it’s like they never had a past (“Time, time, time”).
Despite the depressing content, this album is an absolute joy to listen to. In fact, it’s inspiring in a way, because as an outsider it’s pretty easy to get down and bitter about what you have to deal with, but Helsinki Lambda Club take pride in being true to themselves, and have created something that sounds really upbeat and positive. Hashimoto has a knack for writing interesting, unpredictable melodies to suit his voice, and there are plenty of hooks and fun gimmicks across the tracks like the horns and organs on “PIZZASHAKE,” which are more than welcome as it helps differentiate them more from archetypal indie bands Pavement or the Shins.
One senses that the band is still going through a period of transition, especially after their drummer left in 2017. Whether intended or not, “Tourist” has a more focused sound than previous works, toning down the noisy/punk elements, slowing the pace and dialing back the randomness. The other members add their voices in various places now, which gives them another avenue to explore like the way Deepfunkun or Tempalay get their freaks on.
There’s a lot of great ideas here, but it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of sound they will eventually settle on, if they ever do. But no matter what, Helsinki Lambda Club are going to be themselves. “If I can’t breathe here,” sings Hashimoto on “引っ越し,” “I might just move to the bottom of the sea.” Or alternatively, Mars. Regardless, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be fun wherever they go.