There’s a universal sense of anticipation each time a band releases a sophomore album, because of the possibility that they used up all their good ideas in their debut. Thankfully for St. Paul-based band Hippo Campus, this is not the case.
Hippo Campus released their debut EP less than a year ago, and they have already broken out of their role as a local band and started touring nationally. At the beginning of October, they premiered their second EP, South, and it’s safe to say any doubts about the band’s abilities have been shattered.
Often when a group sticks to a consistent sound over multiple collections of work, it gets old and you just want to yell, “write something new already!” But South reaffirms a style that’s so well-tailored that there’s very little room for criticism. It’s all so very Hippo Campus, and so very good.
The songs have the same whimsical guitar solos and catchy melodies as ever, but it’s less bouncy and carefree than Bashful Creatures, with an overall rougher sound. South also has a bit more track-by-track distinction than Bashful Creatures, which upon my first few listens sounded like one single 20-minute long burst of energy and sunshine. The songs still fit together as a whole, and there isn’t one that sticks out and makes you think, why is this here? But it’s clear they were written as individual songs before becoming an EP. The first track, “Close to Gold,” starts off with frontman Jake Luppen’s powerful vocals, and despite shifts in the overall mood, the album doesn’t stop being flawless until the final note. Highlight tracks include “Dollar Bill,” the most traditionally Hippo Campus song of the lot, and “Violet,” a clear favorite among fans and the first off the EP to be accompanied by a video.
The final track on the album and the most worthy of mention is “The Halocline,” a six-and-a-half minute song that is wholly and entirely different than anything the four-piece has ever done before. After a minute-long intro, the slow and enthralling guitar is sharply contrasted by rough, loud vocals that Luppen hasn’t touched on a whole lot in other songs. It goes to show how impressive his voice is, and proves that the band is capable of more than just happy Vampire Weekend-esque tunes. “The Halocline” as a concept is also an overarching theme for the band, a scientific term that they’ve turned into a metaphor for their current state of being in between adolescence and adulthood. While Bashful Creatures touched on this theme lyrically, it emphasized the more youthful aspects of it. South shows maturity in the band’s songwriting abilities and experiences, and the effect that this halocline has had on them.
Hippo Campus are still barely out of high school, but they have the talent to rival that of groups far more established and experienced than them. They haven’t released a bad song yet, and as they continue growing in popularity, they are providing a valuable voice for the younger music scene.
Hippo Campus are currently in the middle of their first national headline tour, and are playing a sold-out show in the First Avenue Mainroom on Nov. 28.