Last Sunday night, my friend Adriana and I stationed ourselves with Brooklyn Lagers and portable speakers atop the Comm. Ave. parking garage, where several groups of students were observing the lunar eclipse. As we listened to Hippo Campus’s “South”—the infectious, subduedly potent title track off their new EP—passersby kept approaching us to inquire about the song. A few days earlier, Adriana and I had purchased bus tickets for a 24-hour excursion to New York on a Tuesday in November, with the sole purpose of attending the band’s show in Brooklyn. That Sunday night, we knew we weren’t completely crazy.
Nathan Stocker, Jake Luppen, Zach Sutton and Whistler Allen formed Hippo Campus in 2013 upon graduating from Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. What began as a modest effort to prompt their friends to come out and dance launched a quick trajectory to the indie forefront. In the past year or so, the self-described “kinda pop” quartet has incited serious buzz, especially following the early-2015 release of their first EP, Bashful Creatures. They have since found themselves on key industry outlets and platforms—from LA’s KCRW to Lollapalooza to a performance on Conan—and deservedly so. Upon hearing the technical skill, refined composition, and astute lyricism demonstrated on Bashful Creatures, one would never suspect it was the brain-child of recent high school grads.
The four Minnesota boys (known to fans as Stitches, Turntan, Espo and Beans) illustrate both youthful exuberance and street-smart maturity—a rare juxtaposition reminiscent of characters in a Salinger novel. Their charismatic performances capture the spirit of adolescence, yet with the talent and tightness of seasoned vets, reflecting their performing arts backgrounds. The group interviews with impressive eloquence and articulation, but not without spry interjections of quips and inside jokes, often finishing each other’s thoughts as old friends do. And with boyish optimism (and perhaps some tongue-in-cheek), they bring to every gig a sign that reads, “Never let anyone dull your sparkle.”
The idiosyncrasies of a group of guys in their late teens and early twenties, who have talent and ambition beyond their years, produce a highly relatable sound for those of us on the brink of post-grad adulthood. We embrace this fleeting moment of limited responsibility and self-exploratory independence, realizing that such luxuries are unique to this stage of post-adolescence. Hippo Campus documents these formative moments in reverb-rich pop/rock, the way the brain’s hippocampus stores them in our memories. “Suicide Saturday,” the biggest hit off of Bashful Creatures, tackles themes of identity while carried forth by a “Day Tripper”-like guitar hook and sing-along refrains. The syncopated “Little Grace,” filled with catchy, clean-tone riffs, cynically reflects on relationship dynamics that stem from immaturity.
Lyrical themes from this month’s new South EP demonstrate the group’s progression into adulthood; its standouts including anthem-like “Close To Gold” and cinematically primal “The Halocline.”
Regardless of thematic relevance, Hippo Campus has musical chemistry that signals limitless potential, coupled with make-or-break intangibles—the kind that convince fans to play hooky and take eight hour round-trip bus rides between Boston and New York just to see your live performance.