Ryan Bowman

Sophomore albums always cause a lot of debate surrounding a widely popular band and first release. Do they stay with the winning formula or challenge themselves musically and mix up their sound as they evolve? Hippo Campus’s first album Landmark was much anticipated after releasing two EPS, Bashful Creatures and South that were critically acclaimed and made their runs on alternative radio.

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Hippo Campus [Credit: Pooneh Ghana]
While Landmark mostly consisted of cheerful upbeat guitar riffs paired with frontman Jake Luppen’s quaint and playful lyrics, Bambi takes a different approach. While their previous songs were mostly a collaborative writing process, this album sees each band member creating and writing their own pieces before bringing it to the band for crafting and recording. “When you craft a song from the ground up all on your own, it allows you to make it more personal and to write whatever you feel without holding back,” vocalist Luppen says about this process. “I think we were all finally able to get more honest about things like mental health, and in my songs I interrogated my relationship in a way I’d never had the confidence to do before.”

The album opens with “Mistakes,” a slow, almost ballad-like piece with Luppen’s delicate vocals only accounting for a few verses in the entire song. The album then dives into it’s niche with “Anxious,” primarily written by their bassist Zach Sutton. Their uniquely playful guitar riffs that were such a vital aspect of their first releases are traded for synths and drum pads, creating a song that builds in momentum before exploding into untamed vocals in the chorus.

“Doubt” goes even farther with the synth-drum beat, creating a back-line that is bursting at the seams with energy and excitement. The chorus, “Love, is it love? We got trouble keeping up, Who can say you’re the one, And never doubt it,” and verses discuss the bands’ insecurities and anxieties dealing with social relationships in a time of fame and social media. This theme has been evident in their previous work and is explored more deeply in this album.

The album’s title track, “Bambi,” was released earlier this summer and displays a little of everything the band has to offer: delicate, youthful lyrics, clean guitar riffs, and a catchy beat that will stay in your head for days.  The song is a perfect blend of what their older songs sounded like with their new musical direction created in this album, staying true to the guitar while also mixing in their new synths and beats.

Without the vocals “Why Even Try,” sounds like it could be a Silversun Pickups song with the monotonous backing guitar and riffs, but the vocals give it a uniquely Hippo Campus feel. Nathan Stocker (guitar) was the primary writer for this tune and he discusses a failing relationship that had a big impact on his life. This theme is evident in all the songs Stocker contributes on and is reinforced with the other songs he wrote for this album (“Bubbles,” “Honestly”).

A standout from the album is “Bubbles.” It starts off dainty and quiet, with Luppen’s delicate vocals backed by another upbeat but curious synth beat. The song then explodes into an overexposed whirlwind of guitars, drums, and vocals before quickly settling back into the smoother beat before. The explosion of controlled chaos and frenzied guitars is difficult to understand and yet flows beautifully with the song, creating tension and angst that is evident throughout the entire song.

The last three songs seem more similar to the “old” Hippo Campus sound than the first half of the album. “Honestly,” and “Golden,” both see the guitar riffs return to the front of the song, playfully crafting an up-beat tempo that once again pairs beautifully with Luppen’s vocals. The final track is finishes off the album beautifully, once again showing off the band’s ability to craft a song that features vocals and guitar and synth somehow all at the same time, before drifting off into the lull of DeCarlo Jackson’s trumpet and drawl of the synth.

There is no doubt this is not the same Hippo Campus that put out Bashful Creatures or even Landmark. Bambi is the sonic evolution of the band as they experiment with new ideas, new rhythms, and new insecurities. Their usual reliance on the guitar is noticeable in certain songs, but their ability to craft melodies with new instruments and new ideas is on full display with this album. At heart, this is still Hippo Campus: self-reflection and joyful beats coupled with gentle and youthful vocals from Jake Luppen that got fans into them in the first place.

The band makes a stop in Philadelphia on October 18th at Union Transfer. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Stream the album below:

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