The storytelling on Hippo Campus’ new EP, Wasteland, is set against a dystopian, painterly backdrop, fragments of humanity lingering at the edges of the end. On the horizon, a tornado-like entity looms - and instead of turning away, we go forward, plunging into the storm of unknown, and remaining somehow hopeful, in spite of it all.
The five songs collected on Wasteland are totems of friendship, hardship, heartbreak, and, ultimately, perseverance. It’s dispatched from an unnamed disaster spread out across the Midwestern plains; the band was heavily inspired by country music, the way that songwriting gets straight to the point, and using that straight-forwardness, imagery, and dark humor as a vehicle for talking about the grief, loss, and love they’ve collectively experienced in the past year.
Since the very beginning, with their debut album, 2017’s Landmark, to 2022’s LP3, Minneapolis’ Hippo Campus -- made up of vocalist/guitarists Jake Luppen and Nathan Stocker, drummer Whistler Allen, bassist Zach Sutton, and trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson – have tried to make sense of the world around them. They’ve always embraced the ride, the good and bad, trudging through together, and Wasteland is the most honest version of that. Nearly a decade into being a band, Hippo Campus still embraces and is guided by the ethos of shaking it up, sonically or otherwise. Early Hippo Campus records wanted to be cerebral, heady, to use poetic language and obscure their feelings – now, they want to be understood.
Wasteland was recorded with longtime friend and collaborator Caleb Wright (Samia, Miloe, Baby Boys), and is the first batch of new music from Hippo Campus since the release of LP3. The songs were written mainly in Minneapolis, then recorded at Asheville’s Drop of Sun studios. It marks a new chapter for the band – embracing simplicity and hands-off, pared-back production. LP3 and Good Dog, Bad Dream skewed more experimental and glitchy, maximalist and unpredictable, but here the band wanted to get back to the core of their songs. With this EP, they capture the energy of the five of them playing live in a room. The demos seamlessly flowed into the final product – Hippo Campus wanted the way they felt while recording to be immediately accessible to anyone who listened, so they embraced simplicity.
The EP is adventurous, and runs the gamut of genre, but the hook-laden songwriting and weirdo pop peeks through. “Moonshine” is a post-apocalyptic indie-country love song, written by Luppen and his partner Raffaella; it’s about falling in love with a world on fire, a final Tennessean sunset, deceptively upbeat. “Probably,” a spacious and low-key ballad was recorded in just three takes and is acoustic guitar-forward, while “Kick in the Teeth” feels more psychedelia-imbued. “Honeysuckle,” also known as honeyberry, is a plant that can endure extreme winter conditions – and is the song that directly addresses the hardship of perseverance most directly, a distillation of the idea that canopies across the whole EP.
The sinewy “Yippie Ki Yay” might be the outlier in its energy, in its anthemic encapsulation of loneliness. It’s a sprawling, cinematic track powered by propulsive drumming, high energy, and penned as a full group. Built on a guitar riff that had originally floated around as an idea during their Landmark era but didn’t make the album, the final version today is the sort of song the band would’ve only dreamed of writing at the beginning of their career. Now, all these years later, it's an exciting encapsulation of Hippo at what they do best – of a band operating at the height of their powers.