Album Review: Summer Camp – Welcome to Condale

By on Friday, 28th October 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

Not so long ago, Summer Camp were so camera-shy, their most telling communication with the world came through their still-active blog of cryptically-titled anonymous family snapshots; an interesting diversion, but hardly audience-friendly. At that early stage the band wouldn’t reveal their names even when given a glowing write-up in a coveted New Band of the Day spot on Paul Lester’s Guardian blog.

Fast-forward from early 2010 to late 2011, they shrouds of anonymity have been cast away, and we can non-exclusively reveal the London-based duo comprise obscurantist Jeremy Warmsley and übercool bloggist Elizabeth Sankey. On the eve of the release of their debut long-player, the stars appear to have aligned favourably for them; the 1980s mode is back. Topman sports garish jumpers just like your dad wore at Christmas 1986, everyone’s iPhone camera is set to generate split-toned, wild-hued snaps; all we need is a soundtrack to this latest echo of the past.

Step forward Summer Camp. Fire up the drum machine, stick some chorus on the layered vocals, and pout into the mirror. Which pretty much sets the tone for this 12-track homage to the original decade of excess. ‘Better Off Without You’ kicks things off; arguably their best-known song, having a powerful melody and singable lyrics – just don’t let your better half catch you muttering the title refrain under your breath…awkward questions are bound to ensue.

Warmsley takes lead vocals for the most disco-catchy piece here, ‘Brian Krakow’: 3 minutes of pounding drums, fuzzy guitar and a handclap break perfect for neon dancefloor posturing. Things get even dirtier with ‘I Want You’; one of the sexiest come-ons ever put down on tape, Sankey is back, and in full-on seduction mode, synths rhythmically pulsing everywhere, tinny 303 hi-hats and thudding, filtered toms adorning sentiments like, “I’d make you love me so much / you’d have to ask permission to breathe,” …Phew.

After such a powerful statement of intent, the album careens between exposition of extant lust, via moment-after comedown, to sentimental reflections on past times. Losing My Mind intertwines both performers’ vocals to great call-and-return effect; a sound poem of a relationship in the process of demolition – coming to the soundtrack of a rom-com near you. There is, unusually, a song named after the band, which deserves a review all to itself. ‘Nobody Knows You’, with its dark, downtempo, distorted vocal and crashing drums, carries the exact same sentiment of the eponymous Bessie Smith blues standard, but updated with fresh music, lyrics and arrangement. A new song, with an old song at its heart, if you will.

Clearly these guys would have loved to grow up in suburban L.A., preferably living on the set of one of the seminal American high school movies. Molly Ringwald even appears in a sample on one song, and there are similar snippets at the beginning of several others. In the absence of time travel, the next best thing is to soundtrack the contemporary second coming of a similar populist sentiment, a role they are perfectly suited to.

Moments here work as a companion piece to the Moroder-inspired soundtrack of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent noirish neon-lit poem to the vicious underbelly of LA. There’s something in the assertive yet vulnerable female vocals and the upfront synth work that invokes ’80s Los Angeles as seen through the lens of countless stylish, violent thrillers. Scratch the shiny surface and all is jet black. That this set could just as easily be interpreted as an ’80s keg party soundtrack by a casually distracted audience shows its versatility. Pastiche this is not; there is substance beneath the style. Quite the album of the moment, then. Let’s hope it has more longevity than red braces and shoulder pads.

8/10

‘Welcome to Condale’, the debut album from Summer Camp, is out 31 October on the fruity-named Apricot Recording Company / Moshi Moshi.

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