“Summer Camp” – Summer Camp

3 stars (out of 5)

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Summer CampLondon-based duo and married couple Summer Camp’s 2011 “Welcome To Condale” debut was steeped in nostalgia and tomfoolery. A whole visual scrapbook was created to support the fictional town and characters of Condale with Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankley referencing American pop culture with a specific decade, decided by them, that began in 1974. Musically it was enigmatic British indie pop circa 1988 but with built-in, up to the minute electronic dance flourishes occasionally bursting through. It was flawed but fascinating in equal proportions.  Any modern trends sonic or otherwise have all but disappeared on this self-titled follow up and a more wistful and warm sound, still in love with a past, has taken its place. It’s the same band but in softer focus.

Lead single “Fresh” is a very old fashioned, massive string ‘old Hollywood’  sample on a loop. A retro dancer which brings to mind Spiller’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” if it had been recorded 5 years earlier than its 2000 release. It’s very ‘musical’ and stands out because it’s so immediately familiar sounding and has one of the best melodies on the album. The first song “The End” is also a dance track of sorts; it certainly starts off with a substantial beat which gradually gets layered with various synth lines and trinkets, a clever middle eight and it’s indeed a strong opener. But Summer Camp’s real influences here are again more early 80’s jangly, electronic ‘kitchen sink’ melodic pop and not dance. Artists such as New Order and Altered Images can easily be heard and at worst the tweeness of Beautiful South comes to mind. The big beat wallop and rotating synth sample of “Crazy” is less Daft Punk and more early Fatboy Slim and it actually does sound dated, which I don’t think was ever the intention.

Stark and attention-seeking ballad “Fighters” certainly makes an impression. The lyrical metaphors are convincing (‘the first hit was hard and straight to the chin, a spray of blood caught his face as he leaned in, she staggered back in shock and surprise, shivered at the blow and tears welled in her eyes’)  and Sankley’s plaintive vocals are beautifully recorded and right in your ear. But it also has the slight whiff of a school assembly musical which undermines the seriousness of the subject matter and takes away some of the much-needed weightiness; it sounds shallow when it should be sardonic. Flawed it may be but it is a definite glimpse into what they could be capable of and evidence of developing song writing skills. The sung -spoken “Phone Call” is a definite highlight and is reminiscent of late career Kirsty MacColl at her most melancholic and “Pink Summer” has pathos and an intimate and sad vocal delivery from Sankley. The swirling, dingy “I Got You” has a riff that sounds like Aneka’s 1981 novelty number one “Japanese Boy” but with little of that song’s energy or pop awareness, something the couple  excelled at 2 years ago.

“Welcome to Condale” was uneven but had fantastic, eccentric peaks and whilst this is certainly a more cohesive collection of songs and themes, it fails to fully excite or divert from the whole pleasantness that prevails throughout. An enjoyable album certainly, but one where the duo’s intentions and a satisfying sense of a musical identity or presence is unclear. Influences may ring out loud and clear throughout and are fun to spot but Summer Camp’s own voice, and after much initial promise, is sadly less confident and idiosyncratic for the most part here.