Demos I stopped me in my tracks, and Demos II had me dancing; Hippo Campus has done it again


Hippo Campus became a staple in my day-to-day soundtrack before I had more than one playlist on Spotify. “Simple Season” was their first song that met my ears, and after that, I fell in love. I began to click through the songs of their only album at that time, Landmark, eager to hear more. That day, the only thing on my mind and in my ears was Hippo Campus. Though they have released new music since then, none has hit me as hard as that first listening session—that is, until now.  

It all started with a late-night Spotify scroll, a check-up on my library, and a hopeful gander to see if my Discover Weekly had been posted early. It hadn’t. So, I scrolled through my playlist of favorites to find something to suit my mood. My thumb hovered over “Simple Season,” but instead of hitting the title, I hit the artist which redirected me to a screen of Hippo Campus’ artist overview that had their albums on display; it was a lucky mistake that led to a musical adventure. 

I saw two unfamiliar album titles: Demos I and Demos II. A split-second later, I hit play.

The opener of Demos I, “Mistakes,” had me confused. It wasn’t the Hippo Campus I knew, yet it was a Hippo Campus I wanted to get to know. As “Anxious” began, my interest officially piqued as I realized this album had an electronic groove to it. When I got to the middle of the song, the singing stopped, and I didn’t know what I was hearing. It wasn’t Hippo Campus’ characteristic guitar and bass; it was something completely different, and it sounded like stars. 

I was hooked by the end of “Anxious,” but I was completely unprepared for the start of “Doubt.” I was only six seconds in, but my eyebrows had risen and my jaw had dropped. It was so wrong in all the right ways; it sounded unhinged yet completely put together. It was beautiful, but it left me broken.

I needed something familiar, and that something was “Bambi.”

“Bambi” is the only song from Hippo Campus’ sophomore album that I listened to enough to remember, but the demo version of “Bambi” is just nuanced enough from the mastered version that it seemed new. The almost hazy sound clearly exemplifies the band’s enchanting vocals and immense range of instrumental talents that were masqueraded by the overly perfected album version of “Bambi.”

“Why Even Try” is the crossroad between pessimistic lyricism and upbeat guitar strumming; it’s a dichotomous song yet executed with cohesion and unity. It’s a musical interpretation of sugar and spice.

“Think It Over” couldn’t be any more different. It’s fluid and lush. It’s a type of serenity that makes you that much more conscious of your breathing when the song finishes; while it’s playing, it’s the only sound in the world.

“Golden” is quintessential Hippo Campus. When I closed my eyes while listening to it, I saw flashing lights and bobbing heads; it’s a live concert in a single song. It’s a blissful reminder of the Hippo Campus I first fell in love with and why I still love them now. 

Demos I comes to a close with “Passenger.” It leaves you with a smile cracking between your lips. A smile wishing there was more to listen to. 

“Chapstick” left no time for wishing though as it opened for Demos II. It’s the type of song you have heard in every coming-of-age movie ever; it’s the type of song you can’t help but adore. “Chapstick” may seem borderline basic, but going basic is out of the ordinary for Hippo Campus. With this song, they put their own twist on typical, mainstream style, and with that, they spun straw into gold.

“No Poms” isn’t gold; it’s rusty. It’s dirty. It’s grunge. The drums are raucous, and the guitar strumming is threaded with angst. “Pin” starts before the drums from “No Poms” even finish echoing. It’s a breath of fresh air after the harsh scream of the previous song. “Pin” is background music; the more you listen the farther you mind drifts. You’re floating, soaring. 

“Elephant Boys” grounds you. The guitar is earthy, and from that strumming blooms the lyrics. Realism drips from the vocals as the telltale voices reverberate in your ears. “Elephant Boys” is eloquent and elegant. You can’t ignore the lyrics of this song; they probe a response. “Elephant Boys” is a song that urges you to sing back.

“Kentucky” is mesmerizing. Not only was it unexpected from Hippo Campus, but it was also a style completely new to me. Every genre is an ingredient in this song. To tie it to one genre would be to put a noose around the neck of a dream; that’s all “Kentucky” really is: dreamy.

“Ease up Kid” is a guitar-heavy hope—a stringed optimism.  It’s a short song, but it’s more of a saccharine pep talk. It’s a song to spread your wings to. The only song shorter than “Ease up Kid” is “Cellar Door.” At only a mere two minutes and eight seconds in length, Hippo Campus creates the perfect song to sway to. 

“Champion” is divine. Much like its name, this song is a success. As it is second to last, it acts as a victory lap for the album. It gets a blue ribbon for soul and a medal for charm. Hearing “Champion” makes you realize the importance of its forerunner; you wouldn’t want any other song to herald its entrance because “Cellar Door” acts as the perfect palate cleanser. It smooths down the castles in the sand right before the wave crashes to shore. 

“Joy” is simple. It’s a curtain call. It’s a gust of wind extinguishing a flame. It’s the calm after the storm. It’s the end. 

Two albums. Sixteen songs. Fifty-four minutes. A night alone with Hippo Campus. 

These unmastered songs are masterful; they’re the epitome of untainted beauty.