By Meredith Nardino
On their debut LP Landmark, Hippo Campus find comfort in the pains of growing up. Jake Luppen, Nathan Stocker, Zach Sutton and Whistler Allen may have named their album Landmark after the music building at the St. Paul high school for the arts they attended, but there’s no denying the double meaning. This is an album that will serve as a milestone in the band’s career, a turning point from little-known college band to indie-rock superstars.
The Minnesota quartet has come a long way since their live session at our own WFUV in 2015. Hippo Campus often claim their sound has an underlying current of continuing change, a statement proven to be true even within the compact 45 minutes of this album. The opening track, “Sun Veins,” is unlike anything we have heard from the band thus far – glimmering and poetic—but so heavily distorted that it almost sounds like there was a glitch in production. Partnering with BJ Burton, the producer behind Bon Iver and James Blake’s latest triumphs, Hippo Campus create impeccably earnest sonic dreamscapes.
Lyrically, Landmark explores a much more personal side to the band. On “Way It Goes” and “Western Kids,” there are still the somewhat ironic, whimsical verses the band produced on their early EPs. However, the real standout moments exist in the introspective and honest “Epitaph” and “Monsoon.” You wouldn’t expect to be so moved by a lyric so modest as “dare me, scare me,” but there’s something about Luppen’s voice that makes those little words magical. The second half of the album is serene and introspective, proving there’s more to the band than radio-ready, energetic singles.
Hippo Campus is composed of unique, naturally talented songwriters with a knack for stunning imagery. “Simple Season” is all the best parts of wistful summer nights, rolled into three and a half minutes of jangly guitars and dreamy echoes. You hear a line like, “lake scene, knee-deep in the stars,” and it’s as if you experienced the night with as much clarity as the boys who wrote it. It’s a song that revels in optimistic abandon, framing your favorite memories in the simplicity of honest youth.
These 13 songs flow so flawlessly into one another that it almost feels sacrilegious to play them on shuffle. The level of creative thought put into the organization of this album goes beyond what anyone would expect of a debut LP. From beginning to end, Landmark tells a sun-kissed story with a timeless touch.