Saturday, October 29, 2011

Album Review: Summer Camp - Welcome To Condale

Drawing attention early on has plenty of short term positives, but it can nevertheless prove problematic further down the line - just ask Summer Camp. The British duo originate from a time not so long ago when boy-girl duo's weren't greeted with a familiar sigh of "not another one," and could even be said to have helped kick start the current trend. They began to make waves on the blogosphere in 2009 mere months after their inception, but having only written a handful of songs a major release was still some way off. It's only now that they've mustered enough quality material to finally unveil an LP, but it's been born into a very different environment to that in which they initially made waves in two years ago. Jenny And Johnny, Cults, Sleigh Bells, Big Deal, Best Coast... a seemingly endless conveyor belt of boy-girl duo's has sprung to life while they were at work, and now that Welcome To Condale has arrived, it's entered into a genre which has become saturated - and to a degree one-dimensional - in double quick time. But now that they've had their thunder stolen, do Summer Camp still do enough to stand out among an increasingly dense crowd?

In truth, an answer isn't easy to come by. Synth-pop, as well as uni-sex duo's is very much a sound in vogue at the moment, and it's hard to see where Summer Camp fit in. None of their songs are outrageously catchy or commercially viable enough to guarantee chart success, but at the same time they're not experimental or different enough to push the genre forwards. That by no means states that their songs aren't full of hooks, or for that matter that they aren't thoroughly enjoyable, but it does raise questions as to whether they still hold any real relevance. "Fresh" is an adjective frequently used to describe this style of music, but you'd be hard pushed to attribute it to Summer Camp, as all of their tricks have been used (and some exhausted) before. Indeed if you were to make a checklist of all the cliched features of synth-pop, you'd find yourself ticking a lot of boxes.

Luckily, though, Summer Camp do possess the songwriting nous to dig themselves out. Their mix is distinctly 80's flavoured and ram packed with sugary hooks, with Elizabeth Sankey's excellent vocals usually at the forefront and providing the record with it's greatest strength. Each and every song is perennially upbeat, a result of Jeremy Warmsley's dense bed of synth, and while there's not a hint of variety present, that's not necessarily a bad thing because, let's face it - who listens to synth-pop for mid-paced reflection? In that sense, they largely deliver what fans will want and expect, but Welcome To Condale also holds enough quality moments to convert neutrals to their cause. Opener 'Better Off Without You' instantly sets the stall for what's to come, but it's not until the mid-section when the record truly hits it's stride, with some of it's most direct and instantly satisfying songs. 'Summer Camp' and 'Down' stand out as particularly lovely blasts of summery nostalgia, but it's irresistibly chilled out later cut 'Last American Virgin' which arguably proves the cream of the crop, as well as the album's most adventurous moment.

Ultimately, it's excellent individual songs such as those which save the duo's debut from being the disappointment it may seem on first listen. It'd undoubtedly have gained more attention had it been released this time last year, but in taking their time the pair have produced a record which does at least compete against the hordes of similar acts who have barged in front of them. They'll need to pull the stops and improve second time around if the world is to continue listening, but this belated opening salvo holds it's own in an overcrowded market and just about delivers for those who have been talking them up for the best part of two years.

Rating: B-



1. Better Off Without You
2. Brian Krakow
3. I Want You
4. Losing My Mind
5. Summer Camp
6. Nobody Knows You
7. Down
8. Welcome to Condale
9. Done Forever
10. Last American Virgin
11. Ghost Train
12. 198

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