Music Column: Road to recovery runs through Camp Cope

I have a confession to make about Australian rock band Camp Cope: I can’t listen to their music on public transit without crying. After my first few times listening to their 2016 self-titled debut, I thought I felt prepared to enjoy the album during my morning commute. But when lead singer Georgia Maq lets out lines like, “You went on tour and I went on medication,” and, “Those I look up to look down on me / or maybe it’s just my crippling anxiety,” I can’t hold back the tears.

I can’t remember the last time I felt such an immediate, visceral connection with a band. While a part of this is no doubt due to their considerable musical abilities, what really draws me to Camp Cope is how Maq uses her lyrics to defiantly speak her truth. Whether she is telling the story of a fading relationship, mourning the loss of a family member, or calling out misogyny in the music industry, Maq chronicles her experiences with the intimacy of a diary and the urgency of a picket sign. As a person who struggles to express my own emotions, I find kinship and inspiration in her words.

This raw, honest lyricism continues on the band’s second studio album, How to Socialize and Make Friends, released earlier this month. Over nine tracks, Maq and her bandmates record stories of fury, heartbreak, and depression. Their sound adheres to a traditional alternative-rock sound, with wonderfully moody basslines and upbeat guitar riffs. Backed by the relentless energy of these instrumentals, Maq’s willingness to speak so honestly results in a brave and beautiful work of art. In my opinion, it is the first great album of the year.

In the first three songs on the album, Maq reclaims control of her own story from men who have tried to wrest it from her. On “The Opener,” she expresses her anger toward a specific man who invalidated her emotions, before moving onto her frustration with the male-dominated music industry. “It’s another all-male tour preaching equality / it’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me,” she says in the song’s final moments. Her anger is unvarnished, unapologetic, and immensely satisfying.

The next song, “How to Socialize and Make Friends,” captures the pain and recovery process of leaving an unhealthy relationship. Maq does not pretend to be unaffected—she still struggles “to go a night without sympathizing with you.” As the song goes on, however, Maq starts to leave the relationship behind and learns to love herself again. “Now I’ve been ignoring the calls,” she says, “I’ve been riding my bike with no handlebars through empty streets in the dark / and I think I’m getting pretty good.” The song is ultimately not about despair, but Maq allowing herself to feel her emotions completely and heal at her own pace.

The final piece of this trilogy of anti-patriarchy anthems, “The Face of God,” may be the most tragic and relevant track on the album. The song is a harrowing account of sexual violence that attempts to capture the ungraspable experience of trauma with anguished, heartbreaking lyrics. Today, when the spotlight is finally shining on the epidemic of sexual assault in the entertainment industry, it is crucial for those who have not felt Maq’s pain to listen to her share it. The song’s chorus, “You couldn’t do that to someone … they said your music is too good,” rings across the cultural landscape like a gunshot.

The other songs on the album are not as overtly political, but they all demonstrate Maq’s ability to craft honest, emotionally resonant stories. On the powerful “Sagan-Indiana,” Maq memorializes someone she has lost. The song’s free-flowing, fragmented lyrics evoke the catharsis of a good cry. On “The Omen,” the closest the album has to a traditional love song, Maq confesses to her lover, “I promise I’ll take care of you, if you promise to let me.” Whether she feels melancholy or infatuated, Maq’s lyrics hold nothing back.

“Anna,” my favorite song on the album, captures the conflicting feelings we experience when someone we love must change themself to heal. Maq remembers the happy memories she spent with her friend Anna, but also urges her to do what she must to take care of herself. “Don’t get used to the isolation,” Maq warns her, but she also adds, “I really hope you’re happy where you are now.” In the chorus, she sings, “Just get it all out, put it in a song.” This simple idea—to allow yourself to feel your emotions and express them through art rather than staying silent—could be the thesis statement of the entire album.

How to Socialize and Make Friends focuses on the experience of being a woman in 2018, and that is not my story to tell. But I also believe that anyone who engages with Camp Cope will discover truths that speak to their own. That is the main reason why I keep listening to Camp Cope, even through the tears. I have always struggled to speak about my own experiences with mental illness and the long road to recovery. After hearing Maq share her stories, I don’t feel afraid anymore. Her bravery is contagious.

 

Joseph Green is a junior visual and media arts major and the Beacon’s music columnist. Illustration by Enne Goldstein.

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