After releasing two EPs within a three-year time frame, Minnesota indie rock band Hippo Campus debuted their highly-anticipated first full-length album, Landmark, under Grand Jury Records on February 24, 2017.
Consisting of Jake Luppen (vocals, guitar), Nathan Stocker (guitar), Whistler Isaiah (drums), and Zach Sutton (bass), Hippo Campus is known for creating catchy songs to dance through with their alternative-synthy guitar rhythms. The band formed in 2013 at the Saint Paul Conservatory of Performing Arts, where they all attended high school. Hippo Campus released their debut EP, Bashful Creatures, independently in November of 2014, and later dropped their second EP, South, about a year later, in October of 2015. 2017 marks the year many fans have anticipated: the release of their debut album.
Recorded at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, MN, where Nirvana recorded their critically acclaimed album, In Utero, Landmark embodies the underlying constant change of Hippo Campus: both in the change of sound, and in the change within the members’ lives over the course of these past couple of years. I’m assuming the title, Landmark, comes from where the boys went to high school, which was right next to the historic Landmark Center—almost like an ode to the very beginning of Hippo Campus.
The first track of the album, “Sun Veins,” has a production that had yet to be explored by the band before. With a very distorted production throughout the less than two-minute song—which later seamlessly transitions into the second song, “Way it Goes”— the opening provides the listener a taste of the group’s current point in their musical evolution, production wise. (In my opinion, it’s one of the best transitions my ears have heard.) The track, “Way it Goes,” pokes fun at society’s tendency of worshipping social media, fads, and materialism. With the lyrics, “Degenerate, counterculture, crying socialist, hip-to-lazed crazed abstractionists / We’re weird, but Lord knows we’re trying,” the band uses social issues as a musical backdrop. That same approach can also be found on “Western Kids.”
Many songs, including “Vines,” “Tuesday,” “Simple Season,” and “Tuesday,” possess upbeat melodies and catchy guitar riffs that resemble older songs from Bashful Creatures and South that older fans can recognize. The lively lyrics of the tracks portray memorable nights spent out with friends and young love.
Throughout the album, Hippo Campus demonstrates stronger lyrical content compared to their previous releases. The fourth track, “Epitaph,” is full of reverberation and profound lyrics for the listener to interpret. The lyrics, “I know a place beyond these pines / Where the sky falls down with the cumulus cries / A winter song for a January type,” allows listeners to engage with an open-ended lyrical conclusion. The song “Boyish” tackles the topic of children of divorce through a the huge prominence of horns. A notably heavy and personal topic to guitarist, Nathan Stocker, is woven close to the end of the album with a song called, “Monsoon.” The somber piano song describes the grieving process Stocker went through after the death of his sister in a fatal car crash about eight years ago. The lyrics, “Unlike a sky copious with death / precipitation of heart and head / should wash the rest of her youth away / and carry on with it as she may,” convey Stocker’s process of celebrating his sister’s life, rather than focusing on grieving it. The haunting lyric, “It should’ve been me,” repeats, and eventually fades out, at the end of the track.
Hippo Campus’ great use of transitions allows the different feelings of songs, such as the slower and distorted “Sun Veins,” to shift into the more uppity-feeling track, “Way it Goes,” without feeling jarring.
Overall, Landmark shows how far Hippo Campus has come since their start in 2013. Unlike Bashful Creatures and South, Landmark doesn’t follow the upbeat alternative indie music featuring some catchy guitar riff formula. Rather, Landmark plays around with a good ratio of fast-paced songs to slower-paced songs. The maturity of the members’ voices, lyrical content, and production makes for a transcendent album.
I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect for Hippo Campus’ first full length release. Part of me was curious to see if they would completely pull a 180º spin and change up their sound, or continue on with the similar sounds that Bashful Creatures and South have. Landmark contains a multitude of tracks with different influences and different meanings. The coming of age of Hippo Campus be seen through the lyrical content of Landmark, as well as their increase in production techniques that not only please older listeners, but also attract new ones.
CELENE KOLLER | That transition tho | KXSU Music Reporter