[REVIEW] Camp Cope – Running with the Hurricane

On Running with the Hurricane, Camp Cope write anthems.

That’s not a statement of quality so much as a statement of intent: on the Australian three-piece outfit’s third record, the band creates songs that are purpose-built to soar, that are aimed squarely at the part of the brain that needs to sing along in a crowd. You can picture nearly every track played live to a rapt audience; the songs feel big, with communal pleasure built in. 

This marks a shift from their previous records. On their 2016 self-titled and 2018’s How To Socialise & Make Friends, lyricist, singer, and guitarist Georgia Maq’s writing was rooted in small-scale specificity. The songs were often constructed as narratives, lines and melodies running past a clean structure towards the messy complexity of a real, felt experience. She drew explicitly from her own life to target a shitty, difficult world, and she’d use her raw, towering voice to curl up and around the edges of her melodies, singing in a way that was difficult to imitate. Bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich would accompany her with gorgeous, emotive basslines that acted as countermelodies, clarifying and augmenting her storytelling, while drummer Sarah Thompson’s steady backbeats provided a sturdy platform for their interactions. 

The specific dynamic between the band – Maq spiraling off into melisma, Hellmrich countering with melodic consistency, Thompson keeping them both in check – created a recognizable Camp Cope sound. Running with the Hurricane keeps those building blocks intact, but it expands the group’s sonic palette beyond the rock band basics of guitar, bass, drums, and voice. Cuts like “One Wink at a Time” and the title track bring in new instrumental textures like piano and trumpet, while “Love Like You Do” accentuates its diffidence with a grungy chorused guitar. 

Wishing upon satellites, stealing other people’s lines, I’ve gotten lazy in my prime. / I just wanna feel love like you do, relate to the people like you. I’m alien, I don’t mind.

Most noticeably, on nearly every song, there’s a new emphasis on harmonies. Where Maq’s voice was usually solo on previous records, here she’s often multitracked or singing call-and-response. She still traces curlicues around the songs, but the harmonies push her to write more straightforward melodies, ones that are easier to sing back.

Take “Blue,” the album’s lead single and one of its standout tracks. Through the first verse, her voice is the only one on the song, dipping up and down with the curves of the melody. But the first chorus lingers on one note – an eminently shoutable “bluuuuue” and introduces melancholic, bluegrass-inflected harmonies. Once they’re brought in, the harmonies wind through the rest of the song; the whole second verse is nearly a call-and-response between the lead vocal and the backup ad-libs. 

These harmonies have the effect of opening up the song’s emotional world. With every added vocal track, there’s another presence on the song to empathize with Maq’s lyrics. They serve as an entry point – you might not be able to mimic her precise vocal cartwheels, but when the backup vocals sing “I bet you do” in the chorus, it’s easy to join in. The song’s sadness is carried collectively – between all three members of the band; between the band and the audience. It feels lighter this way, like the new textures in their music let her loosen her grip on her own feelings.

This seems purposeful, or at least a natural outgrowth of Maq’s headspace. In an interview with NME Australia, she says that she’s in a less “literal” place in general, and that she’s writing less about a specific person or situation and more about the feeling that’s being evoked. As a result, the lyrics aren’t as diaristic as they used to be. There isn’t a song on Running with the Hurricane that has the withering rage of “The Opener” or the intimacy of “I’ve Got You.” Instead, her writing is more imagistic, lingering on vignettes and symbols; the instrumental textures are what give the songs individual shape and meaning. 

I appreciate this approach. I imagine that it’s more sustainable emotionally and mentally, and there’s something radical about her refusal to provide more trauma for audience consumption. The writing here invites you to fill the songs’ space with your own specifics, and these songs beg to be the soundtrack to the listener’s experiences; instead of using emotional vulnerability as a connecting force, they ring with the grown-up generosity of a solid boundary. But the new style invites new risks.

The title track is the clearest illustration of the pitfalls inherent in the album’s construction. On a musical level, it’s great; its soaring harmonies and crystalline piano are powered by one of Hellmrich’s most inventive basslines, which nervously thrums off-time. Thompson’s drumming is unusually forceful here, with a stumbling pattern that gives the song all of its forward momentum.

But lyrically, the song is more of a mixed bag. Maq’s vocal is charismatic as hell, but it seems like she’s straining for the language to express what she’s feeling. She dips into cliché and mixes her metaphors – at the beginning, she sings that “if this is the bottom, I can show you around,” as if she’s making peace or subverting the idea that where she is the worst place to be. But later, the song’s triumphant final build is centered on the line “the only way out is up.” Is she enduring or is she transcending? 

If you’re in a crowd singing along with them, I imagine that you won’t care that much about the lyrics’ platitudinous imprecision. The music surges right where it should: when Maq sings that she’s “comparing the best parts of you/ to the worst in myself,” she jumps up an octave on the last syllable and the song explodes around her. That’s a powerful moment, but none of the other lines approach that level of intimacy, aiming instead for anthemic generalities.

This becomes more of a problem on songs where the arrangements don’t pick up the slack. “The Mountain” is built around the old chestnut that, if the mountain won’t come to you, you go to the mountain; there’s a great “Landslide” quote on the bridge, but it mostly comes off like the title track without quite as effective a build. “Love Like You Do” takes on a deeply relatable theme – the feeling that you can’t experience love or normalcy, that there’s something deep inside of you that won’t obey – and does very little with it, with a limp melody, lagging tempo, and lyrical images that feel inert and disconnected from each other.

There’s even a line where Maq laughs at herself for quoting other people’s songs, but the paraphrase on “The Mountain” is affecting precisely because it contextualizes her work within a legacy of songwriters using poetic imagery to communicate real, grounded feelings. Any self-consciousness makes sense, but you kind of wish she’d just go for it.

Because when Maq takes the lessons of her forebears to heart, the results show Camp Cope at their best. The aforementioned “Blue” explores omnipresent depression through the lens of a relationship, where one or both people struggle to love each other through the haze. Elsewhere, late-album highlight “Say The Line” uses a Bart Simpson meme to frame a genuine request for consent. When Maq sends her voice soaring over one of the band’s sunniest, jangliest arrangements on the latter, she radiates a blissful energy that balances the song’s humor; you can hear the emotional work behind the goofiness, but she uses the arrangement and the lyrics to demonstrate her growth instead of explicitly narrating it.

The album’s clear standout, “Jealous,” is the moment where all of these disparate threads come together. It’s one of the hardest-hitting songs here, with an arrangement that’s full of momentum. Hellmrich’s bass line is relatively unshowy, but her countermelodies slip gracefully into the changing chord progressions, emphasizing the song’s breathless, lovestruck instability; Thompson, meanwhile, handles the song’s builds into its chorus with aplomb. The added elements in the song – shaker, strummy acoustic guitar, sun-drenched harmonies – aren’t as immediately noticeable as, say, the piano on the title track, but they feel carefully chosen to accentuate the melody, rather than distracting from it.

That melody is easily the best on the record, letting Maq live in a sultry lower register before leaping up into her head voice on the hook. It’s catchy and swaggering, with a sort of dirtbag charm – she writes about her feelings of inadequacy with a smirk, self-deprecating without being self-hating. The chorus hinges on the line “I’m so jealous,” but it’s not until the end of it that she reveals “…of your dog.” She sings it in a tortured, throaty tone, so melodramatic that it’s funny, so funny that it’s serious. On “Blue,” she uses the image of her double-texting her crush to emphasize a sense of emotional doom, but here, it communicates lovesick agony; she knows she’s being cringey, and she knows she might regret being as vulnerable as she is, but there’s also a sense of freedom in being so open with someone she cares about.

It feels like the perfect realization of what the band is striving for across the album – it’s emotionally honest enough to feel specific, but its images and ideas are relatable enough to be heard by a crowd. Its melody is sharp and catchy, but the band delivers it in a way that feels uniquely, characteristically them. It’s sincere and silly, poppy and punky; it demonstrates a band eager to push their musical boundaries and expand their emotional palette.

It’s an anthem, as written by Camp Cope.

Running with the Hurricane is out today, March 25th 2022. Purchase it on bandcamp here.