Following up a debut LP as well-received and enjoyable as Landmark was bound to be a tough job for Hippo Campus. The American Midwest’s breeziest indie rock band have not shied away from the pressure though, and have just released a record that – despite not being a big departure from their previous work – offers a sound more solemn and themes even further grounded in meaningful stories from the everyday than before.
After announcing the album, frontman Jake Luppen explained that the album’s overarching theme – an exploration of toxic masculinity and the reasons behind it, was largely influenced by the #MeToo movement. A quick glimpse at the tracklist, which is, bar two songs, made up of one-word titles, gives a good idea of what the album is about. ‘Mistakes’, ‘Anxious’, ‘Doubt’ and ‘Bambi’ are introspective snapshots of a man trying to find solid ground in society. Each song is a confession full of feeling, all of them strung together to make an album that promises hope for those who can can relate to Bambi’s story.
The psyche of the album’s lyrical subject is one grounded in confusion and insecurity. The opener, ‘Mistakes’, is a biblical premonition of what is to come. “Forbidden like a fruit and I’m the snake / Just a bite, I wanna know the taste” relates the mistakes yet to be divulged throughout the album to the original sin. Taking on this mindset, it feels as though every slip-up that the character suffers is a must, a prerequisite for understanding what is good and what is right – first you must take a bite. But the last words offered up by the excellent album closer ‘Passenger’ (“If I ever became the things we lost, the things we left behind / I would wish for the past when we were pure, suffering intertwined”) suggest that perhaps the original sin is not necessary. That biting into the apple of being whatever society deems to constitue a man, a paradigm which spews bouts of toxicity from the repressed feelings it drags along with, may not be necessary; maybe Bambi wishes he could go back to being pure, living once again blissfully with his Eve in the garden of Eden.
While the main idea of the album rings good, and many of the songs live up to it, that is not the case for all of them. The long intro (‘Sun Veins’) on Landmark was one of the highlights of the album, and ‘Mistakes’ follows in its path as a synthier and hazier cousin. ‘Anxious’ may not be as explosive as Landmark’s ‘Way It Goes’, but waiting for Jake’s godly tenor to finally spread its wings halfway through the song is incredibly rewarding. The title track is probably the best song on the album and key to understanding it. “I swear to god I wasn’t born to fight / Maybe just a little bit, enough to make me sick of it” is a great indictment of toxic masculinity, how a man can feel forced into a role of an aggressor due to external pressures. It must be said though, that by the middle of the album some of the impetus is lost and too much of the lyrics are spent on Bambi feeling sorry for himself due to fuckups that are now in the irretrievable past. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I suck, I suck..” interrupts the false beginning of ‘Honestly’. We get it, thank you for opening up, but your self-analysis could have gone deeper, Bambs.
The album is a noteworthy follow up to their debut. Compliments all round for how well thought out the idea of the ironically-named Bambi is, but some of the hooks sound lazy and the bouncy drums and Jake’s voice will not carry this album through as seemlessly as the first. A valiant effort nonetheless.