“Bad things happen when good people sit in silence,” said Kutcha Edwards about his fellow Australian songwriter Paul Kelly “and Paul doesn’t sit in silence…” It’s a description that could also be levelled at Camp Cope, the Melbourne-based trio (songwriter and guitarist Gerogia Maq being bolstered by bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich and drummer Sarah Thompson) who’ve built both a reputation and a fervent fanbase off the back of their unflinchingly honest brand of songwriting and an attendant aura of a gang willing to fight tooth and nail for both their beliefs and a true equality within the music industry. Their self-titled debut simultaneously offered up something of a mission statement courtesy of the line “there’s something about truth that makes existence bearable” and provided a piercingly perceptive take on life as a modern woman, framed through the backdrop of the city’s Western suburbs and culminating in the sharp description of how “you’ll carry keys between your knuckles when you walk alone at night”.
As introductory salvos go, few feel as timely and as vital as that of that on How To Socialise And Make Friends, ‘The Opener’. Over Hellmrich’s deceptively jaunty bass motif Maq systematically and searingly unleashes a torrent of frustration aimed at both toxic masculinity (“treat them like queens until they disagree, and never take a minute to reflect ‘wait, maybe the problem is me’”) and the condescension and patronising ‘advice’ they’ve received along the way and the way in which it demonstrates the inherent sexism at the heart of the industry. It culminates in Maq giving a précis of the group’s achievements as a two-fingered salute (“well, see how far we’ve come not listening to you”) before beautifully delivering “get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota” with a tone that’s equal parts dismissive, disdainful and liberally laced with sarcasm.
The record’s title track might not be as overtly political, but nonetheless speaks of power imbalances through its themes of a partner, laden with emotional baggage, conflating seeking sympathy and support with having an excuse for ill-treatment and misconduct – “I guess we both got our problems and areas to improve,” sings Maq with a mix of reflection and determination “and I know one of mine is to go a night without sympathising with you”. Shifting from emotional mistreatment to that of a more physical bent, the poignantly subtle strum heralds ‘The Face Of God’ and builds to starkly lay out a tale of escaping predatory behaviour and attempted sexual coercion, subsequent victim-blaming and tepid attempts by others to offer excuses (“they say ‘but he’s got one song that I like…’”) which will be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s followed any of the recent slew of allegations against supposed indie doyens.
The double act of ‘Anna’ and ‘Sagan-Indiana’ gives a winsome perspective into the joys of platonic love and the way our social circles can both shape and inspire us – the former full of both yearning and concern for a faraway friend – and provide a transitional passage that starts the journey towards the album’s affecting final act. On ‘The Omen’ Maq displays both a vulnerability and a sense of regret as she lists acts past that have caused familial upset and her pleasure at having outgrown them, her difficulty leaving the house before finally expressing a desire for a simpler life where “we’ll live happily, get some rescue dogs and a house by the sea…” The muscular lilt of ‘Animal & Real’ and driving ‘UFO Lighter’ both offer a throwback to the confidence and defiance of the album’s early doors; the former a celebration of independence, a theme carried to the latter and its combative assertion that “he expected that I was going to fail and run back, well fuck that…”
Camp Cope’s debut closed with a devastating rumination on death and tackling the uncertain future head-on via ‘Song For Charlie’. Describing in detail the fallout of the suicide of the partner of Maq’s mother (and the funeral that followed) and aimed at one of his children, it saw Hellmrich and Thompson stand aside to let the young songwriter tell her story alone. Similarly, its follow-up ends with ‘I’ve Got You’, where Maq recounts the passing of her father through a mix of childhood reminiscences (like the time she was rushed to hospital with a body full of glass; the image of a recovering infant Maq wrapped in bloodied bandages adorned the band’s début album) and a moving acknowledgement of his characteristics and influences that she carries around daily. With a musical sparseness that only serves to underline its emotionally hard-hitting nature, the fact it comes at the end of a record fuelled mainly by blazing, righteous indignation makes it all the more stunning.
With a tautness that at once belies the fact that it was recorded in a mere two days and highlights the trio’s musical and personal kinship, How To Socialise And Make Friends feels like the vital soundtrack to an ongoing societal change. Recorded as the first chunks were being knocked out of the seemingly previously impregnable wall of male privilege, it’s a record that acts as a celebration of the progress already effected, as well as a rallying cry against complacency and a reminder of the change that still needs to happen. Confronting and pugnacious, it’s an album that refuses to fade into the background and demands undivided attention to its message – much like the people who made it. Put simply, it could easily be one of the most important albums of the year.