When indie rock band Hippo Campus released their debut full-length album, Landmark, in 2017, listeners immediately fell in love with its bouncy, naive melodies and trancelike ballads. In their 2018 sophomore album, Bambi, the band began experimenting with a more electronic sound and heavier guitar. The title track, “Bambi,” chirps with sampled voices and is carried by a wandering baseline that contrasts with its hypercritical lyricism. The album was a large departure from their first body of work, and would have been unrecognizable if not for the catchy melodies that made Landmark a hit.
Their new album, intuitively titled LP3, is more angsty and characterized by its new sound–a heavier, more refined version of Bambi with the lyrical rhythm of Landmark. LP3 is self-aware and nonchalant, as if the band is beginning to accept some of the insecurities that were the subjects of their previous work. Lines like “Sometimes I know what I want then I second-guess it” dot the album, along with more grim ones like “I get by like a week at a time/ But it seems so pitiful, seems like I'm awfully/ Scared of the things that I am sometimes.” It’s evident that the struggles of entering adulthood while maintaining youthful wildness are at the forefront of the band’s mind in LP3.
A new, but familiar sound
Hippo Campus did a lot of things well on this album. The lyrics are clever, witty, and delivered in a cadence that kept me engaged, and the production sounds fresh but not unrecognizable from their other bodies of work.
The first track, “2 Young 2 Die,” features a bombastic brass band and a screaming guitar that escalates the song into disarray by the first chorus. The song is a jarringly emotional take on what it’s like to struggle with finding yourself as an adult while accepting that everyone has good and bad. The lyric, “Everybody's running from a halo/ Everyone thinks that they're bad inside,” is sung by lead singer, Jake Luppen, as the noise of the song subsides. It results in an affirmation that seems to address a guilt that eats away at the writer.
“Ride or Die” has a funky groove that made me tap my feet throughout. The guitar and vocals bounce during the chorus, backed by a groovy drum beat. It kicks off the second half of the album wonderfully, moving from a heavier sound to the ambient, partly-sunny production that initially entranced their listeners. The breakdown after the second chorus is my favorite part of the song–the subtle guitar and echoing vocals blissfully hypnotized me. “Ride or Die” is one of the best songs on the album.
The fourth track, “Bang Bang”, is addictive and lush with a delightful choir of synths that periodically chime in to brighten the mood. The lyrics in the bridge create a haunting dissonance with the joyful noises–the singer repeats the line, “Dead winter, gonna hang me, hang me, hang me,” four times while a voice in the background mumbles lyrics. It’s easy to listen to and has kept me coming back again and again.
The star of this album is easily “Semi Pro.” Hippo Campus is familiar with sports-related metaphors–their hit song “baseball” from their EP, warm glow, is filled with symbolism. “Semi Pro” opens with the lines, “I've been on my last kick for a minute / Running out of goals, stepping over toes / Sitting on the bench, I've been in it.” It’s a classic Hippo Campus song, but with the new energy that defines this album. It ends with the singer chanting, “I’ve been bad but I’m only getting better,” a line that sums up the theme of the album. I love the pop-like feel and the free-flowing melody that is catchy and memorable. This is one of those songs that demands to be played at full volume with the windows down, and I’m sure I’ll be blaring it all summer.
“Understand” is a slow jam that is careless, surrendering, and one of my favorite songs on the album. “I don't care what we are, it just has to work,” Luppen sings during the chorus. The song has a long, John Mayer-like guitar solo that precedes the last chorus, where the song concludes with the lyrics, “Where we end is somewhere far / Something hard to understand.” It’s an ending that is more accepting than challenging, resolving the angst that began LP3. It feels like a curtain call in a coming-of-age movie, where the ending credits begin to roll.
Ambitious, but immature production
Even though LP3 is a mature retrospection of turbulent teenage years, at times the production doesn’t keep up. The production on several of the tracks was forgettable and distracting compared to the rest of the album.
In the chorus of “Blew Its,” Luppen’s voice ascends into a falsetto that is unpleasant, the guitar that fills the background of the song is dull and off-putting, and the sound is chaotic and untamed. It was hard for me to listen all the way through, and left me feeling overstimulated.
“Ashtray,” opens with a high-energy lead guitar that commands the song. It’s heavier than anything the band has ever done, but is an ambitious leap that falls short for me. The chorus fell flatter then I was expecting, and the lead singer’s voice felt small in comparison to the sound that enveloped it.
“Boys” was the first single released off of the album, and is a cinematic and dynamic exploration of teenage sexuality. It isn’t inventive sonically, but the significance of the song makes up for it. Luppen came out as queer during an interview with Billboard in July 2021. Luppen sings, “Kissing boys, missing work / Got hungover from your words,” to describe a turbulent relationship with his crush. But the song is not just about sexuality, it’s also about the messiness of youth. He talks about taking his shirt off at his crush’s girlfriend’s party and being hungover, saying “all these nights are a blur.” The song acknowledges that relationships are unclear and easily fuzzied, a mature yet fond retrospection on youth.
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Contact Alex Bracken with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.