It’s refreshing to hear of a young band release their debut album. However, to describe Hippo Campus’s Landmark as if it were their first “run of the mill”, is difficult to do so.
Several years after the release of their two EPs, 2014’s Bashful Creatures and 2015’s South, the Minnesota-Native boys dedicated hard work to producing an album that speaks volume to the level of the band’s maturity. Carrying over their up-beat melodies and strong vocals from lead singer Jack Luppen, Hippo Campus delivers a sound layered with pop-centric instrumentals coupled by an electronic atmosphere reminiscent of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million (which should be no surprise considering the album was produced by BJ Burton who has previously worked with the likes of Bon Iver). The biggest surprise came from Hippo Campus distinguishing Landmark from their previous EP’s; slowing down the pace of their tracks altogether. This should not be interpreted as a bad thing because Hippo Campus is still searching for their sound, exploring different themes and compositions along the way.
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Their exploration dissolves into tracks like Way It Goes, with lyrics designed to illustrate moments of clarity and escapism from the world – “Wisconsin pines, collaborating with the day glow vibes, An altruistic breed of travel guide, It’s chill, but lord knows you’re trying.” When diving further into the album, the lyrics become more complex as the band seek to understand society and its many facades, while coping with their own emotions and upbringing. Stand out tracks like Epitaph, Poems, Monsoon, and Boyish best emphasize this overarching narrative.
In particular, Monsoon stands out from the rest of the album for its gloomy, melancholic instrumentals, shifting the positive tone expressed throughout the album. This is fitting considering the song deals with grief over the death of a loved one. The repetition of the lyrics “It should’ve been me” battles the guilt of having to move forward, using Monsoon’s to metaphorically illustrate this emotion.
Landmark should be commended for its lyrical direction, but not every element of the album should be offered such praise. There was something missing from Landmark, because it does not deliver the same punch received from tracks featured on their Ep’s like Souls or Suicide Saturday. There are glimpses of true magic in aforementioned tracks Monsoon and Poems, but then there’s Tuesday or Simple Season that left the listener wanting more.
The direction to create a softer tone, while developing the lyrical and rhythmic work, has its costs and benefits. For some fans, they may miss the catchy hooks featured on Hippo Campus’s previous work; for others, they can appreciate the band’s experimentation and new direction. Moving forward, Hippo Campus should find the sound produced in their previous Eps, carrying it forward in relation to the lyrical content and production quality of Landmark.
Look for Landmark to be released on February 24, 2017 via Grand Jury Records