Bambi by Hippo Campus
By Lea Veloso
With the line wrapped around Houston street, hundreds of lucky fans crowded Public Arts on the Lower East Side for a free intimate Hippo Campus concert. A week before the release of their second album Bambi, the band used their fan text service to alert devoted fans about a limited space showcase. The tiny club inside the glamorous PUBLIC hotel was filled with anticipating fans waiting to hear new songs off of their album for the first time.
“We’ve never had a bad show in New York,” lead singer and guitarist Jake Luppen exclaimed to the crowd. The night was filled with curiosity, as everyone was unclear whether the band would stray from their traditional indie sound or continue on a familiar path. The band played fourteen songs, eight of which were from the new album. Each song was new and enticing, making the crowd constantly dance and jump to the beats. The band fed off the energy of the crowd, cool steady vibes flowing throughout the venue.
Their new album, Bambi, shows a vulnerability that the band has steadily been developing since their first album, Landmark. In a Twitter post, the group explained that each individual member had decided to write songs under the name of Hippo Campus in lieu of writing an album collaboratively. As a result, this independent lyricism and maturity shines across the ten tracks of their sophomore album.
The album opens with the ethereal track ‘“Mistakes.” Cathedral-like imagery is conjured through soft organs, echoes, and choral voices, altogether depicting biblical allusions: “Forbidden like the fruit and I’m the snake,” they sing. Yet at the chorus, Luppen’s voice is singled out: “I'm not that bad, I make mistakes.” This singular line sets the tone for the album. Not one of self-pity, but of self-realization.
Follow up “Anxious” launches into an approach of jumbled thoughts. The pulsing drum pattern creates a tense atmosphere on the first verse, and Luppen almost mumbles his lyrics as if they are thoughts racing through his head: “This head won't quiet down for a single thought. I'm all circle psychopathic,” he sings. The chorus plays with a two-voice system, where a low-pitched layer affirms his insecurities and further undermines him. While fading out, it crescendos into a bridge where Luppen nearly screams that he’s accepted this anxiety— now he can only search for a sense of security that was once there.
The namesake of the album is Luppen’s Aunt Bambi, who also inspired the opening lines of an earlier Hippo Campus hit, “Way it Goes,” an easy-going song depicting the stereotypes of young adults who live an ‘Indie’ lifestyle. This time, the album’s title track deals with the same themes of social anxiety and depression: “I haven't been much myself / And I feel like my friends are being put through this hell I'm feeling / I think that I'm living, if you could call it living,” sings Luppen on “Bambi.” His voice is accompanied by laid-back synths and rhythms, and bandmate DeCarlo Jackson’s delicate trumpet riff that lightens the self-deprecating mood. The same sentiments are seen on “Anxious” and “Think it Over.” There is a sense of wanting to belong, whether it’s to a certain group or a potential lover. Hippo Campus suggest that the only things that get in the way are you and your own thoughts.
Although the album sets a new direction for the band, their signature gentle approach isn’t lost on the new album. On their first album, and on 2017 EP warm glow, the band relied on lots of delay, reverb, and relaxed drum beats to portray a sense of easygoingness. The same tactics are seen on other Bambi tracks such as “Why Even Try” and “Golden.” The flowing beats and relaxed guitar make it hard to realize that the theme of anxiety still persists throughout the album.
Between these tracks, there is a forceful re-entry to that earlier anxious reality. Tracks like “Bubbles” and “Doubt” incorporate heavy distortion in the background and hard techno beats programmed by drummer Whistler Isaiah. ”Bubbles" especially toys with the dense sound of a racing heartbeat, with later lyrics depicting uneasy thoughts— that feeling of saying the wrong thing in front of someone who means a lot to you. “Doubt” switches the gears figuratively and literally. When the song is performed live, bassist Zach Sutton switches his bass for a keyboard and hands his Fender off to Luppen. The verses are harsh, dealing with the confrontation of people who care too much about your business. Yet the chorus flows into a relaxed state, asking, “Is it Love?”
The album concludes with the serene track “Passenger.” The band released it as a single shortly before the concert and it included a new surprise outro that became a fan-favorite. The ending piano chords release all the tension, and turn into bliss. It is a moment of self-reflection and tranquility, a reassurance that everything will be alright in the end.