It’s funny – and alarming – how quickly trends are changing in music these days. The jaunty indie pop of Minnesota’s Hippo Campus isn’t old-fashioned now, more just out-of-season: much of their new album recalls Vampire Weekend’s work on ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ (2013) in its vibrantly preppy presentation.
Perhaps that’s why the band decided to name their third album simply as ‘LP3’: it’s a statement of intent, a sign that they mean business. It’s been four long years since their sophomore album – albeit with a brief EP (‘Good Dog, Bad Dream’) released last year – and ‘LP3’ is the sound of Hippo Campus reconvening. Most of the band recently took time out to pursue side projects: frontman Jake Luppen became Lupin, Nathan Stocker became Brotherkenzie, and the pair worked with producer Caleb Hinz (also the producer of ‘LP3’) to make their debut record as Baby Boys.
You feel that Hinz has much to do with the quality of production on this album. Not a widely known name but simply another school friend of the band’s from Minnesota, he has risen to the challenge superbly with bright and bubbly production, with the caveat that a debt of gratitude to Rostam Batmanglij’s work on ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ appears to be a clear influence.
So Hippo Campus are back together and memory of their previous albums has been restored but also enhanced. Where their earlier work felt more earnest and innocent, there’s a sharper streak of contemplation on LP3; the earnestness remains, certainly, but it’s improved with a well-worn sense of lived-in experience.
All members of the band are well into adulthood now and you can hear it in the songwriting (and technical quality). Freedom – but checked freedom – bursts out of ‘LP3’. ‘2 Young to Die’ is a cautionary tale of invincibility meeting realism. “Everyone thinks they’re too young to die,” Luppen tells us and it’s given added relevance to hear him sing it in these pandemic times. As much as positivity radiates in the rhythm of the album, death smothers the storytelling. ‘Semi-Pro’ is about the death of a career and the meaningless of fame, while ‘Ride Or Die’ strikes an inimitable balance between sweetness and sincerity.
Heralding their growth too is the tentative expansion of the band’s style. Swishes of electro synths are added to their indie pop stock, particularly in the looser first half of the album. ‘Blew Its’ (a curious title) is full of electro pop shimmer, while ‘Ashtray’ is infectiously bouncy. ‘Bang Bang’ begins slowly and solemnly before it bursts into life with colourful synths zooming into earshot.
Befitting an album about burgeoning adulthood, there is a lot of conflict, often in the space of one song. “Same New York, it’s the worst, all these nights are a blur,” Luppen sighs on ‘Boys’, sounding both like an endorsement and a lament. “It feels so damn good”, Luppen sings in the otherwise serious ‘Semi Pro’.
By the time the soothing ‘Understand’ arrives – an ode to love in all its realness and complexity, it’s a calm and realistic conclusion formed by Luppen and his band. Conceptuality has been discarded in favour of more personal storytelling, Luppen mining deep into his past few years for subject matter. In this way, it’s a nuanced reckoning with growing up and trying to find one’s identity in adulthood. Luppen knows no other mode of performing than open-hearted communication and storytelling.
Words: Conor Lochrie
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