Hippo Campus Blends Coming-of-Age Realities with Breezy Indie Pop in ‘Landmark’

Indie rock quartet Hippo Campus finally debut a full-length album this year, after playing major festivals like Lollapalooza and Red Rocks, and after their 2015 EPs Bashful Creatures and South. Landmark is a poignant, upbeat triumph that’s layered with deep societal commentary and mature coming-of-age struggles.

The band formed in St. Paul, Minnesota, and are made up of vocalists and guitarists Jake Luppen and Nathen Stocker, bassist Zach Sutton, and drummer and vocalist Whistler Allen. Their sound is reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, with some surf rock elements that are hooked with intricate song writing.

The album art works in conjunction with each song on the album. Every item painted in and outside of that room is a piece that is mentioned in the lyrics of each song. For example, the bucket of orange paint by the chair is for “Vines,” because the second line of the song goes, “I see waves of pastel orange and yellow paintings fire.” This speaks a lot about how the album is initially received: it seems simple, but listeners have to dig deep in order to get the profound meaning.

“Way it Goes” is the absolute highlight of the album, with its see-saw melody and repetitive but resonant chorus. The meat of the song comes in the verses—Luppen explains it’s about how society is largely comedic, how people control the way others see them, and use social issues as a “backdrop” to personal drama. It’s about those rare moments when people escape their artificial reality. It’s a masterful track that drips with sarcasm because Luppen sings “zombie kids love to hear that easy/going shit/grab a guitar and/just moaning shit,” and then proceeds to sing “that’s the way it goes” in an easy going manner, over and over for a majority of the song. The clever repetitive structure and melody really drive the point of the song home, and its deeper meaning could easily be missed upon the first few listens.

The four-piece band continues this pattern of creating breezy, easy-going indie pop with lyrics that delve into heavier subject matter. In “Vines,” the band tips a hat to their bassist Sutton’s basement in Minnesota where they found their sound, while weaving stories about trying to find meaning, and that confusing feeling of people coming and going through life. It’s a track that really encompasses what the album is about: nostalgia and growing up and dealing with it.

Hippo Campus again uses repetition to their advantage in the dreamy “Tuesday.” It’s a love song that also speaks on its dichotomy of more casual relationships. Lyrically, it’s simplistic, but it works because they spend the song not only talking about the happier sides of love and hooking up, but also the uncertainty that comes with it. The heavy repetition of the “sometimes, it’s the best day of my life” at the end shows that sometimes a Tuesday can just be any day to someone, but it could be the best day of someone else’s life captured in a moment. It’s simplistic, but ripe with a heavier meaning.

The short one minute “Sun Veins” opens the album, but it’s relatively boring and adds nothing significant nor particularly profound to Landmark—although it does blend and build up nicely into “Way it Goes.” There are times when the album becomes repetitive, as it uses that same formula of pleasant indie pop over thought-provoking lyrics. But it still flows naturally from track to track.

Hippo Campus creates pleasant, almost care-free indie pop with solid and reflective song writing that adds weight to each track. It’s sincere, it’s upbeat, it’s summer festival-worthy while still maintaining a lyrical maturity that transcends being just superfluous indie pop.

Recommended Tracks:
“Way it Goes”
“Vines”
“Tuesday”
“Boyish”

Grade: A

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