Album Reviews

Mammoth Penguins – Hide And Seek

(Fortuna POP!) UK release date: 10 July 2015

Mammoth Penguins - Hide And Seek When Sheffield’s Standard Fare split up a couple of years ago, there was a sense of missed opportunity – in just two albums they’d demonstrated an uncanny knack for buzzy, fuzzy indie-pop, managing to bring the C86 asthetic up to date for a brand new audience. Lead singer Emma Kupa showed herself to be an impressively talented songwriter, with a real knack for dashing off lovelorn anthems. And then, suddenly, they were gone.

Kupa has kept herself busy, however. Relocating to Cambridge, she’s teamed up with Mark Boxall and Tom Barden to form Mammoth Penguins, another indie-pop trio who, pleasingly and rather inevitably, sound rather like Standard Fare. Like Kupa’s previous band, Mammoth Penguins are noisy, melodic and have a lovely, bittersweet edge to their songs which only really reveal themselves over repeated listenings.

Propped Up is a good example – at first listen, it’s a typical, stomping slice of jangly guitar pop: the vocal interplay between Kupa and her bandmates works beautifully and the whole thing is so catchy that you’re singing along after a couple of minutes. It’s then you realise that the refrain you’re singing along to goes “regrets…mistakes…moments of pain”. It’s time like this, when Mammoth Penguins pull the emotional rug from under your feet, that they work most effectively.

It’s more explicitly there in the lovely Strength In My Legs, an exploration of insecurity and low self-esteem and the standout Cries At The Movies, a wistful tale of an emotionally closed-off partner who can only let the tears flow when she’s watching a film. Best of all is the reflective We Won’t Go There, where the knockabout atmosphere and fuzzy guitars are brought down a notch for a yearning, low-key ballad. When Kupa sings “you know I still care for you, but we won’t go there unless you want to”, it’s enough to melt the hardest of hearts. The quiet, fragile nature of the song makes the instrumental racket at the end sound all the more affecting, somehow.

It’s true that this is a debut album from a band who are still getting to know each other, and that comes across on some tracks. The slightly muddy production may prove a distraction to some people, and at 12 songs, it does sometimes sound a bit like they’re overstaying their welcome. While there are no bad songs on Hide And Seek, there’s a little bit of filler (which is understandable enough in a band of this infancy), and it’s the moments when the tempo is dropped a bit that are the most successful – the aforementioned We Won’t Go There or the lovely harmonies on Played for example.

That’s a minor quibble though – for most of Hide And Seek is the sound of Emma Kupa picking up where she left off with Standard Fare and taking it into a pretty exciting new direction. It’s the final song that signposts that Mammoth Penguins’ next album could be something truly special: When I Was Your Age ends the record on the melancholy, poignant note of self-doubt that hits all people at a certain age when they wonder what they’re doing with their lives: “I’m 28 years old now,” muses Kupa, comparing herself to people who’d toured with Blondie, practised polyamory and lived in India, “what do I have to show? I have a job, I rent in a rented house. I’m going nowhere”. By this evidence, she’s doing just fine.

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Mammoth Penguins – Hide And Seek