Personnel: Emma Kupa (vocals, guitar); Tom Barden (drums, background vocals); Mark Boxall (background vocals).
Recording information: Sickroom Studios (2014).
Photographer: Claire Kyndt.
After the members of Standard Fare, her band of almost a decade, went their separate ways, Emma Kupa didn't waste much time getting a new band together. Joining up with bassist Mark Boxall and drummer Tom Barden, she quickly started up Mammoth Penguins. While some things about the new group were carried over from the previous one, like her eagle-eyed knack for detailing tiny realities of life and love in her lyrics and some seriously catchy pop songs, there was a big difference as Kupa switched over to guitar. On their first album, Hide and Seek, she brings some heavy riffing and fiery crunch to the six-string attack that's not worlds different than that of Standard Fare, but it's enough to give the sound a little boost of energy and power that works well with Kupa's songs. Her vocals fit well with this tougher approach and she's able to whip up some serious emotional punch when things get loud, almost as much as when she plainspokenly details sad stories of heartbreak and feelings of inadequacy. To go along with the newly upgraded sound, Kupa deals out a very impressive batch of songs. Wedged in amongst the amped-up rockers that bite like vintage Weezer ("When I Was Your Age," "Chewing Gum"), the heart-rending ballads ("We Won't Go There"), and the snappy singalongs ("March of the Penguins") are some really good, really memorable indie pop gems that stand out just enough to glitter like glass on the beach. The bopping "Always Cries at the Movie" is a beautifully written, heartbreakingly true song that's put together like the best bedsit Motown, "Propped Up' is a brief burst of tough love lost that snaps like a boxer's best jab, and the shambling "Played" is incredibly hooky rock with a chorus that reverberates very deeply for anyone who has ever been fooled by a prospective lover. Throughout, Kupa's ability to combine her insightful views of love won, but mostly lost, with her winningly sincere vocals makes the songs come fully to life; the band's wire-taut energy and nimbly skillful approach makes them dance. It's clear from the record that Kupa had to keep making music and she has tons left to say, and Hide and Seek is a bracing debut that builds on the already good work Standard Fare did, ending up darn close to great in the process. ~ Tim Sendra