Let me put it this way: I was today years old when I found out that Georgia Maq is such a prolific POP songwriter.
Georgia “Maq” MacDonald is best known as 1/3 of the Melbourne-based alternative rock band Camp Cope where she sings and plays guitar. The all-female group have released 2 EPs and 2 albums so far, the most recent of which (from March 2018) is cleverly entitled “How To Socialise And Make Friends”. Camp Cope describe their music as “power emo” and last time I checked they were still self-managed.
PART 25 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE
Apart from the music the trio have also marked their place on the Australian music scene with two important campaigns. In 2016 they launched It Takes One initiative putting out T-shirts with a straightforward slogan “The Person Wearing This T-shirt Stands Against Sexual Assault And Demands A Change”. A year later they called out Falls (and other festivals, indirectly) for the lack of female representation on their bills. When I saw Camp Cope at Laneway 2019 in Melbourne, they also combined a stellar performance with advocating for a good cause – this time circulating a petition to end black deaths in custody (amongst other things).
Having said all that, I was a li’l surprised when – without any previous announcements – Georgia Maq casually dropped a solo pop/electronic album called “Pleaser” on 5 December 2019.
Yes, she has been in the music business since 2006 and released solo work before. But such unexpected, brave moves don’t happen every day, so I welcomed it “with arms wide open”. And the reason I’m publishing this review almost a week after the album’s release is simple: I needed to sit on it for a while to try and understand it better as a whole.
Not the music, though. Because it’s very thoughtful. Just quite different from the Maq everyone’s normally used to. We already knew her voice was melodic but it evident in this album especially. And considering that it is a rather short LP, around 30 minutes only, it gives the impression of quite a mature piece of work. What strikes me as well is how well it is produced in spite of being pretty low-key in terms of zero pre-release publicity.
What you notice right away looking at the track listing is emotions. Just by the first and last song titles, Away from Love and Big Embarrassing Heart you can tell this is a sentimental album. Once you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see that love and all the related complications, like loneliness, rejection, betrayal, being broken hearted, missing the other half, are the all-encompassing topics. But it’s not just “another love album”. And it’s not all sad because of the way Maq narrates it. She treats this nostalgia more as constantly improving, singing “Running in circles, I’m still learning / To be comfortable standing still” in the closing track.
The second thing defining this album is its conversational tone. Listening to the lyrics you can’t help but feel as an observer of Maq talking to that “other person”. As if in one session she was trying to explain the different emotions she was going through: from feeling totally defeated to suddenly empowered, from complete resignation to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. This “emotional” structure is a pretty clever storytelling technique which helps empathise with the singer and the feelings she’s so skilfully conveying.
The opening track, the shortest on the album, Away from Love, sets the mood already. It’s a bold statement when she sings, “I’m walking away from love”, and shows her vulnerable side that we don’t get to see much otherwise.
Driving Blind works as a metaphorical statement about the hard times in life and relationships. It is also a good track for cruising in a car, with its repetitive beat and 80s-like synths.
The title track Pleaser is the real banger on the album where Maq shows off some serious vocal skills. It has a pretty catchy chorus and the way the song starts, “Dying to please / All the ones who love me the least / All the ones who don’t agree”, could be anybody’s life motto, really.
The following song, Like I Do begins and finishes on an interesting computer tone combination which takes the listener back to the “electronic” past. Easy to Love, on the other hand, has a pretty dancy beat and an on-point observation, “Loving’s easy but profound”.
All the tracks on the album are tastefully arranged, letting Maq’s vocals shine without overpowering them instrumentally. Sometimes, i.e. in Like a Shadow, the music is just casually, silently playing in the background. But the vocal could easily stand on its own even without it. It’s probably worth mentioning here that Maq had some vocal coaching in the meantime and it definitely shows.
The rawness of the lyrics adds to the storyline’s authenticity, too. For instance, when she sings “Only lovers in the dark / Broke my nose and crashed my car” in Like a Shadow.
Few of Maq’s “usual” instruments are incorporated throughout the album. Guitar is only used in the first track. She experiments with different electronic sound effects and beats, but it’s nothing too fancy. And it’s not too much, either.
The strongest song is – quite fittingly – the last one. Big Embarrassing Heart is perhaps also the most optimistic of all the tracks on the album, despite the message of loneliness and “falling in and out of love”. What adds to the simple yet powerful lyrics is the synths’ melody which reminds me of modern bagpipes. The words “If you ever wanna come back… come back” repeated throughout leave the listener with a feeling of an open door and hope for the future. Which also makes you want to hear more music to see how the story develops. (A hint that there will be a follow-up one day, hopefully?)
In You’ll Be Singing My Name Maq states “Broken heart always heals on its own”. After the difficult time she went through at the beginning of the year, involving her ex-partner, and potentially having felt burned out, this album appears to be an accurate documentation of her healing process. She definitely realised her value as a versatile musician, being perfectly capable of “writing beautiful songs” – as she put it herself in one of the recent interviews.
Not that anybody ever doubted that but maybe she needed time to come to this conclusion herself.
Poison City Records
Produced by: Katie Dey and Darcy Baylis
Released: 5 December 2019
- Away from Love
- Driving Blind
- Like I Do
- Like a Shadow
- Easy to Love
- You’ll Be Singing My Name
- Big Embarrassing Heart
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