Video Hippos Unbeast The Leash

[Monitor; 2007]

Styles: megaphone crooning, guitar and drum danger duo, hang your head and stomp
Others: Wham City, Dan Deacon, Coachwhips

As with most of the regular contributors to the Wham City kibbutz, Baltimore’s budding installation of transplanted art school kids, the music is only half the equation. Video Hippos, along with cohorts the likes of Dan Deacon and OCDJ, thrive in the spectacle. The stock of Wham City deal out living-room stage productions of Beauty and the Beast and sweat-caked dance parties in big red cat suits. They’re not into the whole typical notion of standing up and playing instruments proficiently for standard time intervals, leaving the audience detached and distant. They want to be in proximity to breathe down your neck. At least close enough so that some of the sweat flying from their brows stains your shirt. The audience is integrally involved in the success of this sort of performance art (or this ‘one-step-removed from performance art’). So one could argue that the music is immediately devalued when taken out of its live context. In the case of Video Hippos, they’d be right.

Video Hippos’ other half, the one not present on their Monitor debut Unbeast The Leash, lies in their name and a penchant for neon articles. A multimedia experiment of sorts, the duo’s live shows hinge on the convalescing of the audio and video realms from the sickness of separation. Playing over perfectly synced big-screen projections of cartoons and home movies, the band is in its element of showmanship. But Unbeast The Leash’s audience doesn’t get that connection, instead being offered a tightly-bound bundle of near-infectious, droning pop rocks. To be fair, the Hippos probably did the best job of capturing their essence that they ever could have hoped for. The record’s production is flawless, muffled howls and static in all the right places. Songs like “Toothsub” and “Lazer Jet” carry a lazy excitement, with “Bear Fight” being a score for anything but such a clash of the titans and “Rider” being the swirling epic of the album, clocking in at a whopping three minutes and fifty seconds. The songs are succinct, polished, and ultimately hazy.

On a surface level, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the music the Hippos make. It’s good, even sometimes great, but it’s lacking something significant and fundamental. Kevin O’Meara beats those drums to pulp while Jim Triplett shreds his strings like carrots, and it’s all to little avail. It’s difficult to call Unbeast The Leash a whole when it feels more like a recorded remembrance, like those baffling live CDs that are produced and sold at venues immediately after big concerts. Or a better analogy: walking away with a goodie bag and only fleeting memories of the birthday party, the clown, and his tricks.

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