Album review: Hippo Campus – Bambi

This Friday (28th of September) sees Hippo Campus release their sophomore album, Bambi. Back in 2013 when they started their only intention was to make music for their friends to dance to and express their creative joy yet in the growing climate of 2018, the band have seen a dramatic shift from their naive initial plans into a bleak and unsteady life filled with the increasing pressure of mental health and society’s demands that everyone is ‘put together’. Bambi sees the St. Paul, Minnesota-bred band navigate this world and the result comes as a collection of songs that drift into much darker terrain which grip tightly onto a frenetic yet fragile beauty which makes even the most clearly painful moments feel glorious within the record.

Not only driven by exacting introspection, Bambi was also shaped by cultural shifts, including the #MeToo Movement. “That really made us take a look at how toxic masculinity has influenced the way we see ourselves and the world overall,” says Jake Luppen. “In the past, we might have been apprehensive about being super-vulnerable, but now we’re more aware of how important it is to come forward about dealing with depression or anxiety. Because if more men are able to do that, they might be less likely to express those feelings as anger or violence.”

Partly recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago, Bambi finds Hippo Campus working again with producer BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Low, Francis, and the Lights), who handled production on their 2017 full-length debut Landmark. And in sculpting Bambi’s distinctly inventive arrangements, Hippo Campus significantly expanded their use of drum machines and synth.

Image courtesy of Chalk Press Agency.

Throughout Bambi, Hippo Campus match their relentless self-examination with a joyfully adventurous sonic approach, ultimately transforming the emotional experience of the problems they’re exploring. One of the band’s greatest hopes for Bambi is that the album might help others in dealing with their own pain. “I’ve always considered the responsibility of art to be representing your specific experience,” says Sutton. “We’re saying, ‘This is what I’m doing now, this what I’m living like.’ It’s about sharing what you’re going through, so maybe someone else will feel less lonely.”
And as Nathan Stocker points out, Bambi may find a particular connection with those feeling shaken up by the chaos of current times. “The only thing I’m sure about with this album is how unsure it is,” he says. “I want people to feel as confused as we are about everything because confusion can be an interesting thing. When you don’t totally understand what’s going on, you never stop thinking and questioning and trying to figure things out for yourself. I think a lot of good can come from that.”

Album opener, Mistakes is instrumental heavy, setting the foundation for the record and bringing in electronic, deeper tones that weren’t so present in their prior album, revealing the band’s transition only a year on from their debut. Small flickers of vocals weave in and out of the track, creating a calm and ideal opening to an album which holds so much weight, it’s slow nature is perhaps a reference to the subjects running through the album, done intentionally to prepare the reader for what they are about to unfold, hints of regret fill the lyrics “sometimes, mistakes” being the only clear, audible words, constantly being repeated to reinforce the pain.

The sadness of the first two, initial tracks is completely contrasted by Doubt, upbeat, mid-tempo track, it is easy to be fooled by the overwhelming, bouncy synths, strip them back and you’ll find saddening lyrics questioning love, life and questioning a relationship between two people. Until now, guitars haven’t heavily been a feature in the record but fans will be overjoyed to her the glistening tones of electric guitars moving alongside backing vocals that only work to reinforce Jake Luppen’s self-doubt and questioning.

Bubbles is perhaps one of the most intriguing on the entire record, starting slow and set to a simple, metronome-like backing track, Luppen’s warm voice, overdubbed with fuzzy effects, golden vocals build up to a chaotic crash of sound midway through the verses, this is a totally unexpected move to hear from a song so subdued, calm and soft track yet possibly reflects how unconformative Hippo Campus are, refusing to do as they are expected by shoving moments of chaos and jarring tones, proving, again and again, they can always surpass expectations and reach new, unexpected levels sonically.

Album closer, Passenger, is a track released in June of this year and formed the bridge from their debut, giving fans a taste for what is to come. Stripped back to a piano to start with and developing into a full band setup, it later fades into an instrumental moment of calm, serene, tranquillity. The balance on this album has clearly been carefully considered as this is the ideal end required to such a weighted, detailed album.

Just a year on since their debut album, Hippo Campus have released one of the most stunning, introspective albums of the year, the sheer range of emotions and feelings expressed throughout Bambi will remain with you for a long time, clinging to you and causing you to question all of life.

8/10

Image courtesy of Chalk Press Agency. 

WORDS BY CAITLIN MCMILLAN – @CAITMCMILL

Bambi will be released digitally via Transgressive Records on 28th September, physical formats will be available to pre-order at http://hippocampus.band/

FULL UK & EUROPEAN DATES – ON SALE FRIDAY 31ST AUGUST
TICKETS
14/02/2019 – Manchester, UK – 02 Ritz
15/02/2019 – Glasgow, UK – The Garage
16/02/2019 – Newcastle, UK – The Riverside
18/02/2019 – Birmingham, UK – Institute
19/02/2019 – Dublin, IE – Dublin Academy Green Room
21/02/2019 – London, UK – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
23/02/2019 – Bristol, UK – SWX
24/02/2019 – Brighton, UK – Concorde 2
26/02/2019 – Brussels, BE – Botanique / Rotonde
27/02/2019 – Cologne, DE – Luxor
28/02/2019 – Paris, FR – La Maroquinerie
01/03/2019 – Amsterdam, AN – Tolhuis (Paradiso Noord)
03/03/2019 – Berlin, DE – Lido
04/03/2019 – Hamburg, DE – Molotow
05/03/2019 – Copenhagen, DK – Hotel Cecil

 

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