Hide and Seek is the debut album from Mammoth Penguins, the new band fronted by Emma Kupa, formerly of BBC 6 Music favourites Standard Fare. Due out on 10 July via Fortuna POP!, the album is an exhilarating collection of indie anthems, with Emma's candid songwriting and heartfelt vocals at the fore. Chugging away like a great lost Weezer record, the songs are bold, loud and outrageously catchy, with lyrics that hit just the right chord, exploring the burgeoning responsibilities of being in your late 20s/early 30s.
When the much-loved Standard Fare called it a day after nine years and two albums, Emma Kupa upped sticks and moved from Sheffield to Cambridge, where she recruited Mark Boxall (bass) and Tom Barden (drums). Previously the bassist and lead singer in Standard Fare, Emma relished the switch to guitar in Mammoth Penguins, allowing her the space to deliver her trademark soaring vocals and to indulge in the occasional mean guitar solo. With Tom’s driving energy and Mark’s bouncy pop bass they quickly developed their riff-tastic powerpop sound. A songwriting force of nature, Emma soon had enough songs for "Hide and Seek", with enough to spare for her recently released solo mini-album Home Cinema - six songs of spirited indie-folk about family, death, drink problems, holocaust survivors and communism.
Recorded at Sickroom Studios in Norfolk by producer Owen Turner (Magoo, Factory Floor), Hide and Seek captures the band at the age they're at right now, reflecting on different aspects of being in their late twenties. Some songs explore the more serious side of life and relationships, such as "Make a Difference", about trying to convince someone to do the right thing with you, and "Postcards", a mellow number about trying to cheer up your lover. On the other hand, the jaunty "March of the Penguins" deals with having to act like an adult when you still feel young.
Elsewhere the rip-roaring "Propped Up", with call-and-response backing vocals, talks about how we're all dependent on others to distract us from negative thoughts, and the infectiously poppy "The Hermit" tells the story of trying to get in touch with a friend who has withdrawn from society. Other highlights include the Allo Darlin'-esque "Cries At The Movies" with its Motown beat, about viewing tears as weakness, and the slacker-pop of "Played", with its big, sing-a-long chorus.
Encapsulating the album's dilemma is the final track, "When I Was Your Age", a gloriously messy and loud song about feeling inadequate about one’s achievements. As Emma explains, "It started off with a birthday card from my granddad saying that he was married with kids at 28 and then I started thinking about what my parents, grandparents and family members had achieved by the time they were my age".
With Hide and Seek, Mammoth Penguins have produced a wonderfully varied record, each song a story, nuggets of joy, despair and hope. Already onto her second great band, feeling inadequate isn't something that Emma Kupa needs to do.
Mammoth Penguins, the new band formed by Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa, are one of the best new acts to emerge this year. At it’s heart it’s basic indie pop of drums, crunchy guitar chords, bass and bitter sweet lyrics. But an elevation comes from Kupa’s distinct vocals, which here seem clearer and more powerful than on Standard Fare releases. Plus there is a sharper focus to the songs as well. They just seem to pack more of a punch than most other guitar based indie pop we’ve heard this year.
Take Cries At The Movies for example, the listener gets the feeling that Kupa has lived through this, thanks to her strong vocal delivery. On Strength In My Legs there is genuine power conveyed in the trio’s music. The opening of Work It Out is also a big, wonderful statement of intent as is the album’s closer When I Was Your Age.
Granted the production is unadventurous. It sounds like it was recorded live, but it’s clear and powerful and sometimes this less is more approach is the best option. The songs are good too for an act that have emerged as the finished article and on this evidence are perhaps only one more album away from rivaling Standard Fare in indie pop fans affections.
In their nine year career, indie pop three-piece Standard Fare garnered much critical acclaim. Their contagious and spirited songs wowed media pundits and built up a loyal following in both the UK and the US. After the end of that band, Standard Fare’s bassist and singer Emma Kupa relocated from Sheffield to Cambridge and formed Mammoth Penguins. She’s switched from bass to guitar allowing her to focus more on her vocals and “to indulge in the occasional mean guitar solo”.
Combining Kupa’s talents with those of Marx Boxall (bass) and Tom Barden (drums), Mammoth Penguins are a tight power pop trio. And they’re not afraid to rock out. The pop sensibilities are still there, but they’re backed up with a dedication to producing riffs you can hang your hat on. There’s a level of maturity there; lyrically Mammoth Penguins dedicate much of their focus on what it means to be in your late 20s/early 30s. But that never comes at the expense of fun. They’re a loud, sprawling joyous band. Unapologetically bold, this is a band who take an anthemic approach to their songwriting. They explore the mostly uncharted waters of the intersection between indie pop and grunge, creating a sound that is totally their own.
Kupa’s lyrics are unequivocal and genuine. Combined with Barden’s forceful drumming and Boxall’s rambunctious bass playing, the result are loud glorious songs that stir the emotions. Mammoth Penguins have a multitude of stories to tell. They enthral and inspire in equal measure. And they make wonderful pop songs.
Mammoth Penguins have something to offer anyone. Whether you’re an indie pop fan who wants a song you can headbang to or a punk fan who wants to listen to something a bit more introspective, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
If Emma Kupa is stalking us, we aren't complaining. Her musical work first appeared here a few years ago with her former band, Standard Fare. Then last year we covered Home Cinema, her EP for WIAIWYA. Now, she is back with Mark Boxall and Tom Barden as Mammoth Penguins. On their debut Hide and Seek the Cambridge, UK-based trio offer 12 exuberant songs with bright guitar tones, scrappy ambition and confidence. The vocals are heartfelt, the lyrics wry but sincere. Focusing on life as late twenty-somethings, there is understandable introspection, and maybe a few self-criticisms. But this trio loves a fast pace and embraces the noisier aspects of their art, so as a whole the package is fun and satisfying regardless of whether you find yourself in the same place in your life. For my part, I find that after each listen I find myself feeling better than when I started. Since I'm not a dumb guy, my conclusion is that I need to keep listening to Hide and Seek.
(When You Motor Away...)
Mammoth Penguins are fronted by ex-Standard Fare front-woman Emma Kupa. The band is completed by bassist Mark Boxall, known for his work with Violet Woods, and drummer Tom Barden, a member of The Pony Collaboration.
Emma’s voice sits proudly on top of a bed of razor sharp guitars, propulsive, pulsing bass lines and some frankly joyous sounding drumming. Played has shades of The Breeders bassy shuffle, Work It Out is the sort of jaunty, fuzzy pop that’s made Courtney Barnett a household name, whilst Cries At The Movie has the same easy jangling melancholy perfected by Camera Obscura.
The band formed after Emma left her native Sheffield for Cambridge, and are still based out of the university city now. The 172nd biggest district in the United Kingdom, Cambridge has a population of just over 122,000 people, and as such has developed something of a tight-knit music scene, with musicians regularly swapping one band for another. Probably Cambridge’s most famous musical sons are Pink Floyd, although The Broken Family Band, Muse singer Matt Bellamy and Katrina and the Waves are also from the city.
Mammoth Penguins formed shortly after the demise of Standard Fare back at the start of January 2013. The band signed to Fortuna Pop, and shared their debut single When I Was Your Age back in May this year. They followed it up with a second single Propped Up in June and their debut album Hide And Seek is out July 10th.
In many ways, on Hide And Seek, Mammoth Penguin have created an album of fully formed Indie-classics. These are timeless songs about relationships, growing up and things not turning out quite like you’d planned, that sound just as life affirming and fresh today as they would have had Blur or Supergrass written them twenty years ago.
The Hermit, with its clanging scuzzy guitar and ticking drums, is the tale of a long term crush who’s as uncontactable today, “in this age of modern technology” as they were “decades ago” when Emma, “started a band in the hope you’d pay attention.”
Make A Difference starts off with muted guitar runs in the mould of Girl Pool, but takes on a thrilling energy via the bouncing twang of a bass line that Allo Darlin’ would be proud of. We Won’t Go There is a questionable attempt at moving on with your life, Emma noting, “you know I still care for you, but we won’t go there” before adding pleadingly, “unless you want to?” The whole track threatens to fade slowly from view before exploding back into life via a thrilling blur of guitars, drums and what sounds a lot like someone aimlessly hammering the keys of a piano.
Lyrically Hide And Seek walks the well trodden path of failed relationships, but rarely are they this well crafted. From Played’s opening gambit, “it’s been a while since I met someone I could talk to for days, it’s been longer since I met someone who felt the same way” whilst the yelped, “I got plaaaaaaaaayed” backing vocals in the chorus are equal parts comedy and tragedy. Cries At The Movies tells the tale of a girl who, “only cries at the movies, keeps it together the rest of the time” and, “never feels the sadness, says it’s not her style” before Emma imparts some of her wisdom her way, noting, “for each of the times we’re happiest there will be times we feel low, so don’t try to hide the emptiness just let it go.”
The albums finest moment is unquestionably its last, the sublime When I Was Your Age. The track was written following a conversation between Emma and her grandparents about what they were doing at her age, which go from the relatively mundane, “when I was your age I had two kids and a wife” through to, “when I was your age I had toured with Blondie, when I was your age I had practiced polyamory” is yelped over a delightfully scuzzy guitar line, the whole track laced with the bristling energy of feedback, even in the more downbeat breakdowns the guitar takes on a delightful fuzz as Emma looks at her own life with a sense of disappointment, “I’m twenty eight years old now what have I got to show, I have a job I live in a rented house, I’m going nowhere”, Well Mammoth Penguins can now all add, “I released one of the best indie-pop albums of the year” to their list of achievement, because this album is a belter.
Those who believe music should always be forward gazing and progressive may find this collection a little retro and lacking in new ideas, but even the most adventurous of music progressives would struggle to not enjoy the sheer quality and craftsmanship of this splendid set.
(For The Rabbits)