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Album Review: Camp Cope ‘How To Socialise & Make Friends’

Camp Cope only formed in 2015, but they’ve had a significant impact on the Australian music scene in that short time. Much of that attention, however, is more about their politics than their music. This review will try to avoid discussion of the band’s politics or activism, because if I cared about an artist’s personal views over their music, I’d only ever to listen to Kidz Bop.

‘How to Socialise…’ is, at first glance, a more passionate take on the formula Camp Cope displayed on their debut self-titled album, but that passion falls flat against a largely dull musical backdrop.

The Opener, already a familiar single, is a prime example of this. Bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich lays down a rolling bass line before Georgia Maq’s voice breaks through to castigate a former partner for their contradictions and one-upmanship. “If I was hungry then you were starving, and he was so sick but you were dying.” Maq’s delivery is passionate and builds in intensity as she goes on to sarcastically hit back against her male critics. Unfortunately, the music itself doesn’t reflect this emotion, with the bassline staying in the same comfortable rhythm and the guitar following along. Although Sarah Thompson’s drumming does something to prevent the song losing all feeling, it’s not quite enough to carry the song.

The title track suffers from a similar refusal to musically develop songs, though there is a clear sincerity in Georgia’s lyrics and delivery, most evident as she declares, “I can see myself living without you and being fine!” Her vocal delivery throughout the album is noticeably rawer and angrier than on the group’s previous release. Whereas songs like Done, Westside Story, and Trepidation contrasted melodic, almost vulnerable vocals with more harsh, strident, shouted vocals; many of the songs on ‘How to Socialise…’ feature Maq either almost talking, or shouting. This makes for a more unique and powerful voice, but does contribute to the songs feeling less thought out when the two albums are compared.

Perhaps the best example of these limitations is Anna. When the track was originally released in 2016, it was just Georgia with an acoustic guitar. The sparse instrumentation and dramatic dynamic shifts highlighted the raw energy of the song. On this album, the song feels bloated and lazy. The extra instruments don’t justify their existence. They’re simultaneously too restrained to add energy to the track and take up too much space to really let the lyrics shine.

The Face of God is one track that almost makes the formula work for it. Again, it’s Maq’s vocal performance that stands out, though this time the bass and drums don’t appear for almost a minute into the song, allow the track room to develop and grow as it continues.

By the middle of the album, the tracks start to blur. Each guitar part, bass line and drum take have the same qualities to them between songs. The Omen, like The Face of God, is notable for changing things up just enough to continue listening, but at this point even Georgia’s vocal performance is struggling to hold my attention. The lyrical density of Animal and Real and UFO Lighter only further highlight the lack of musical detail in the songs.

Finally, the closing track is exactly what the album needs, but it’s too little too late. I’ve Got You is a genuinely heartfelt letter from Georgia Maq to her dad, Hugh McDonald. It’s just Maq, a guitar, and a stream of consciousness. That’s all the song needed.

I’ve Got You shows the emotional cornerstone of Camp Cope’s music. Too often, that emotion is lost in the boring instrumental additions and political and activist hype. This album could have built on the success of their debut by either developing a more interesting musical style that supports the emotion in the lyrics (for example, look at Courtney Barnett’s development from her early EPs to her album), or by stripping back the instrumentation to focus on Maq’s performance. Instead, this second album feels like a step backwards, with less variation, less interesting music, and less melodic vocals.

Ultimately, I have no strong feelings about this album. I can’t call it a “bad album”, but I also don’t anticipate remembering it a week from now.

If you already love Camp Cope and want more of exactly that, this is the album for you. Otherwise, consider listening to the last track, and giving the rest a miss.

Camp Cope Live Dates

Republic Bar, Hobart
w/ Erica Freas
Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
w/ Erica Freas
Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne — SOLD OUT
w/ Waterfall Person

The Tivoli, Brisbane
w/ Kellie Lloyd (Screamfeeder)
Jive, Adelaide — SOLD OUT
w/ She’s The Band

Basement, Canberra
w/ Moaning Lisa
Heritage Hotel, Bulli
w/ The Nah
The Metro, Sydney
w/ Sports Bra

Written by John Zebra