Album Review: Hippo Campus - 'Bambi'
‘Bambi’ begins (not to be confused with Batman Begins…) with ‘Mistakes’. A song of eerie charm, the introduction reminiscent of their opener ‘sun veins’ on their debut LP ‘Landmark’. A winding intro snaps into focus with Jake Luppens vocals. It fades out with cosmic, smoothing tones.
Interstellar synths play a larger role in track two, ‘Anxious’. A song penned by Zach Sutton, his first for Hippo Campus, it explores the bassists’ social anxieties and uncomprehendable reservations. The chorus addresses this head on, with internal struggles clashing against external advice: ‘I've been here before / Don't you know it's all the same / Don't you know you're not to blame’. A lovely song.
Luppen’s unmistakable, stilted, staggering vocals dominate ‘Doubt’ switches its attention to the struggles of romance. Familiar, yet different and frenetic. This song showcases the new creative trajectory of the album from their first attempt. Their experimental ambition is sprinkled everywhere, technical awareness increased since their last three track EP ‘Warm Glow’. In this case, it is done well.
Bambi is Luppen’s Aunty, who let the Minnesota based indie-rockers base themselves in her secluded cabin to focus for a big part of the early process of the record. Therein lies the inspiration for the title. ‘Bambi’ is a hazy daydreamer of a tune. The title-track is another about relationships and mental health; it tackles the issue of spiralling when feeling down, that you’re also getting your friends down. Hippo Campus, on their socials and at their shows, have done much to raise awareness of such issues. For example, they have campaigned to raise awareness of gun violence, selling t-shirts, designed in collaboration with Normal Parents, to support the work of Everytown for Gun Safety and their fight to end gun violence. Fans will be happy their interest takes a big step further in their efforts, for which they should be applauded.
‘Why Even Try’ is written by Nathan Stocker about a relationship the broke apart, and then not knowing what to do. “Soon it will all disappear / Maybe I will miss your voice in my ear / But I can't go back now, so why even try?”. With cross-examining, raw lyrics, the guitars and big-room drums on this track will make it one for those who loved their older style. Their quality and maturity is on full display here, and is sure to impress their avid followers.
‘Think It Over’ returns to their more experimental, mellifluous side, with a soft piano intro followed by distant drums and spacey synth selection. After bouncing from studio to studio, its easy to see the attention to detail to every aspect of each track is not overlooked. ‘Bubbles’ is spoiled by an unnecesary assault on the ears, perhaps an unfortunate over-production or an experiment too far, but is otherwise a pleasing effort. ‘Honestly’ is rather brilliant. It excites the senses from those first chords, it is a catchy, sweet-sounding tune with a reliably Hippo Campus feeling. ‘Golden’ is worth its weight. The composition will be one that will please any crowd live.
The final track ‘Passenger’ is another of their pre-released songs and the longest of the LP. Featuring complex chord progression and more challenging themes such as change, it is the fitting outro. The band have come a long way since 2013 in their short but successful career. Their upcoming world tour demonstrates that. It would have been easy to play it easy, but it takes courage and confidence to mix up a tried and trusted approach. From their songwriting all the way to recording and production, the band have tried new approaches. Hippo Campus have refreshed their repetoir with a sophisticated array of fine tunes. They’re a band exploring new horizons, not settling for safety. Let’s see if the album lands safely on it’s feet, and not skitter on the ice, like its Disney name-sake. I’m confident it will succeed, be cherished and see the band grow to bigger and bolder things.
Words by Matthew Swallow
‘Bambi’ is out the 28th September via Trangressive