Summer Camp – “Better Off Without You”
Summer Camp’s splash onto the music scene greatly mirrors that of M83. Both bands, with their lush orchestration and heavy synthesizers, were associated immediately with John Hughes soundtracks and ‘80s pop. Both are driven by the visions and musical talent of small amounts of people – M83 is basically just one person, Summer Camp a duo. And now, both have released their latest albums within a month of each other. But while M83 chose to take their latest album in an “epic” direction, with 22 songs and eight of them over four minutes, Summer Camp took a different direction for their debut full-length: short, sweet, and fun.
In fact, Summer Camp’s Welcome To Condale is far more comparable to Cults’ self-titled debut in its brevity, its use of guy-girl vocals, and its catchiness.
Condale starts off with the excellent, cheerful “Better Off Without You,” which draws wonderfully from the cheesy 80s dance-pop it pays homage to. It sets the stage perfectly for a fun, solid album that thrives off peppiness, cutesy vocals and shimmering synthesizers.
Unfortunately, however, there are two sets of songs throughout Condale. The majority of them are in the mold of the opening track, brimming with catchiness, nostalgia, and sing-along hooks. A few, however, drown themselves in fuzziness, pushing beyond danceable rock and instead moving into disco territory. These songs (“I Want You,” “Nobody Knows You,” and “Done Forever”) are well-produced, and will surely please fans looking for that kind of sound. But they don’t fit in with the rest of the album – mostly because, frankly, they aren’t much fun.
So let’s talk about the kind of music that Summer Camp does do best – music that, indeed, is perfect for the soundtrack of summer camp slideshows and, especially, ‘80s teen movies. Like Madeline Follin of Cults, singer Elizabeth Sankey’s voice is powerful enough to rise above the electronics and lo-fi instrumentation and deliver real feeling and emotion. She shines on “Summer Camp,” as she sings the catchy chorus, delivered with a drum beat accenting her every syllable: “I was searching for, I was hurting for, someone just like you, now I found you.”
Summer Camp also makes great use of its male and female dual lead singers. The best tracks on the album incorporate the voices of Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley, regardless of whether they switch off or back each other up. “Last American Virgin” does the former, as Warmsley takes over lead vocals quickly two times in the song, charmingly playing around with his voice: “they don’t know, where we go, when the lights turn low.” The piano-driven song, and this particular moment, instantly brings to mind the “I took a look in her eyes” moment from Cults’ “Bumper.”
While the glaring similarities with Cults here and throughout the album are unfortunate (like the use of spoken word quotes at the beginning of various tracks, for instance), the songs don’t feel unoriginal or ripped-off. “Losing My Mind” and “Down” also make use of the band’s two talented vocalists: they sing over each other, in response to each other, and with each other at various different points.
On the excellent “Brian Krakow,” with its crunching guitars and pounding drums, Sankey’s voice is used primarily as an excellent low-key backing to Warmsley on the big, sing-along chorus: “If you wanna have me, that’s fine, if you say you love me, you’re mine.”
Summer Camp is overt in its homage to vintage, spacey ‘80s pop music. And by “overt,” I mean, they really, really make it obvious. If the synthesizers, surf-rock guitar riffs and backing “ohhs” and “ahhs” weren’t enough, they’ve also included quotes from different ‘80s movies and TV shows are placed at the beginnings of a few songs, including dialogue from Say Anything and Weird Science. There’s even a song called “1988.”
But despite shoving their influences in our faces, Summer Camp has managed to make an album that sounds both inspired and modern at the same time. Perhaps the best example of this is “Last American Virgin,” which has vintage vocal melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ‘80s pop album, but also a stomp-clap drum beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a rap album.
While sometimes the choruses just aren’t memorable enough (the anticipated replay potential for a good chunk of this album is low), and the forays into heavier techno music don’t work as well, Welcome To Condale is overall a great set of accessible, easy listening tunes that are perfect for, well, summer. If only the album had been released a few months ago.
Stream ‘Welcome to Condale’ in full here.