Running With The Hurricane (Poison City)
SORRY MEGHAN TRAINOR, it’s not all about that bass. But it sure is a lot about that bass, at least on Running With The Hurricane.
On the third album from the cross-border trio, Camp Cope, guitarist/singer/songwriter Georgia Maq, drummer Sarah Thompson and bass player Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich expand their emotional subject matter, soften their musical delivery, and redirect casual attention from patterns to something more complex.
It’s more than some radical shift in direction, because categorising this record’s imperfect predecessors as relatively guileless slaps to the complacent, as fun as they were, undersells the songwriting development across those two albums. (Read a review of 2018’s How To Socialise And Make Friends here)
However, you can say that this is a record where people who previously had questioned the qualities of the songwriting because of genre moves, or been distracted by the energy or the vividness – and wholesale rightness – of the polemic, have few excuses for not seeing what now is obvious.
The first thing to say is that the admiration for what you might call classic American guitar pop (think LA and Athens more than Detroit and Chicago; ‘70s more than ‘60s) and classic American vocal sounds (think more Midwest and South than bi-coastal; more ‘80s and ‘90s than 2000s) that was flowering on Maq’s solo album has borne fruit here.
Camp Cope have embraced it all: the almost understated melodies, the way the backing vocals are unafraid to bring an element of sweetness, the front-facing but never imposing guitars, and how Maq’s singing plays against the languorous delivery of the tunes with an edge of intensity that sometimes hints at strain, and at other times seems to be pointing to a slacker indifference, without ever falling into either camp.
In Jealous, that balance is delicate but stick solid through verse and chorus, the self-respect and self-lacerating of the lines all but cancelling each other out. Earlier, in Blue, the chorus kicks up but it doesn’t break out first time around, the backing voices tethering it to the grounded guitar, and then just when it looks like it will build to something big by the third chorus, everything is pulled back. Then, in the album’s closing track, Sing Your Heart Out, as Maq frees herself, pushing a delicate piano membrane with growing power and the rising tide of the rhythm section, the song ends on a febrile but sharply controlled climax.
Here’s the thing, when the instrumental emphasis everywhere is on understatement the risk is you paint only in shades of grey, trusting the vocals to daub the contrasts. But if the vocal melodies mostly lean back in rather than push out, across an album that can become a blending of similar shades that ultimately diffuses impact rather than amplifying it.
Where Running With The Hurricane avoids this trap, indeed elevates itself, is in the consistently illuminating playing of Hellmrich, who makes the bass the counter lead as well as the rhythmic spring, and the production of Anna Laverty, who highlights this without ever unbalancing the album.
Look at how in the title track Hellmrich plays the full Mike Mills-style melodic line that brings the song’s shards of light, how in The Mountain she turns that to subtle reinforcement, or how in Caroline she takes what is at first merely a low nod of acquaintance into a welcome, and then makes the bass interaction a full conversation in Blue. Feel it too in the warmth beneath The Screaming Planet as much as the Peter Hook-ian high questioning of Love Like You Do, and its more forgiving cousin, Say The Line.
The most telling contribution may in fact be impossible to delineate, but I would argue crucial. And that is that throughout this record, Maq’s many-shaded lyrics that embrace vulnerabilities, that tell of women who are flawed and searching and open enough to tenderness to be hurt, who never lose the fear that mistakes will be repeated but aren’t going to let that block every move, are really felt and represented the most within those bass lines.
Want to understand Running With The Hurricane? You could do worse than to start there.