On “Keep Growing” by Camp Cope
“There are no shocks or surprises,” sings Georgia Maq in “Flesh and Electricity,” but nothing could be less true of Camp Cope’s self-titled debut album, 37 minutes that jolt and astonish, thanks mostly to Maq’s vocals, which go from gorgeously bored to some otherworldly caterwaul and back in the course of just a handful of words.
There’s an obvious and keen intelligence in her lyrics, but much of their power is in Maq’s delivery: check her desperate rasp when she sings “ended up in the exact same place” in “Done”; the break in her voice when she sings the word “nice” in “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams”; her rushed gulp of air between “fucking” and “tourist” in “Trepidation”; her high-pitched third iteration of “still have to light the stove with a lighter” in “Stove Lighters,” ten syllables that float up and out of the song like a flaming scrap of the business page on the breeze; or the way she disappears into the nearly inaudible last word in “And I let them / ’Cause they let me in” in “West Side Story,” the album’s best track. “I want to do whatever you want to do / I want to watch the empire fall with you,” Maq sings near the end of that song, before the would-be bridge returns her to neither her song nor that sentiment, and the fierceness that follows it is some of the best coming undone I’ve ever heard in popular music.
The band’s new single, “Keep Growing,” to which I’ve been listening obsessively for the past several weeks, is a kind of companion piece to “West Side Story,” as the indecision of its opening line (“Still can’t decide whether I wanna / Waste money or waste my time”) picks up on the emotional torque of the earlier song’s pained outro (“Don’t wanna to see you for a couple of years / But yours is funeral I’d fly to from anywhere,” a line nicked and twisted from Why?’s “These Few Presidents”). As on the album, Sarah Thompson’s drumming is monolith-steady, Kelly-Dawn Helmrich’s bass playing aggressively melodic (think New Order’s Peter Hook but not as icy), and Maq puts the load on her words in brilliant increments—the second and third choruses erupt: “But I’ll keep growing my hair out / I never wanna do anything even when you’re around / I’ll keep growing my hair out / It’s not for you / No it’s not for you.”
This may seem like a far cry from the more explicitly political language in “West Side Story,” in which Maq wants to make fun of cops with you (and, in a solo YouTube version of the song, to blow up parliament with you), but “Keep Growing” completely nails a resistance to what Herbert Marcuse called the “total mobilization” of the individual, which is to say that Maq’s claiming a right to her own hair is laced not only with the sheer absurdity of having to lay such a claim, but also with a kind of horror at what a life that says I do this for me and no one else might lead to. It’s a knowing mix, one that recognizes both the incessant will to individuality in the face of the many claims on it—capital and patriarchy, to name but two—and the fear that one’s own mobilization of that will could necessitate an increasing number of casualties as it approaches totality.
In the time it’s taken you to read what I’ve written, you could’ve listened to at least half of “Keep Growing,” and now that I’ve tried to say why I think you should, I hope you’ll listen to the whole thing.
You could need it. It might be for you.
In any office or
alarm of life
we do all get
to certain points.
They, for instance,
have money obscenely,
while you’re just
what medicine wants.
Graham Foust is the author of six books of poetry, the most recent being Time Down to Mind (Flood Editions, 2015). With Samuel Frederick, he has translated three books by the late German poet Ernst Meister, including Wallless Space (Wave Books, 2014), a finalist for the National Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association. He works at the University of Denver.
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