The second half of the last decade has, in many ways, turned into an episode of I Love The ’80s as far as the world of music is concerned. From the spiky, angular post-punk of early offerings from Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, the likes of Wild Beasts and Metronomy re-imagining ’80s icons for the new age (The Associates and Human League, respectively) through to mainstream successes in the shape of La Roux and Hurts. Surely, by now, it’s all been done before?
If that’s the case, then no-one’s told electro-pop’s poster duo Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley, collectively known as Summer Camp. They’ve chosen to do things a tad more thoroughly than their peers by mainlining sepia-tinged nostalgia like some unheard-of recreational drug to create their own all-encompassing bubble of kitsch (via the clever use of vintage photos, videos and John Hughes-indebted teen romanticism). However, right from the offset their début album is at the very least a match for their dedication to their cause.
As album opener (and lead single) Better Off Without You gallops out of the traps, it’s hard to not be won over. With its mortar-shell drums, accomplished and assured nature, and upbeat, uplifting melody it comprehensively belies its themes of self-denial following the breakdown of a relationship. Fans of début EP Young will be surprised by Welcome To Condale’s more up-tempo and bolder sound during the early stages, with character study Brian Krakow picking up where the album opener left off (introducing us to the first of the album’s raft of characters in the process). The propulsive, suffocating ‘don’t-call-it-a-stalker-anthem’ I Want You draws heavily on dance influences to paint a previously unthinkable vision of Summer Camp as potential nightclub fodder, while the percussive Losing My Mind takes the kitchen-sink theme of a couple arguing and wraps it up in a towering behemoth of a chorus.
Throughout the album the listener becomes drawn into Summer Camp’s own utopian, nostalgic vision via the gradual introduction of both characters and situations. Mayor Louis Sley and Hollywood starlet Bebe West compete for attention with teenagers Brian and Cathy. Louis and Bebe’s argument is clear for all to see on Losing My Mind, Bebe’s death and its effect on Louis is documented on the dramatic Nobody Knows You, and Bebe’s reminiscences of her youth are served by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it grin inducing Down. Meanwhile, Cathy and Brian’s borderline disastrous first date gets the storytelling treatment via the infectious hip-hop influenced The Last American Virgin. The storytelling element, as well as maintaining a constant location in Condale, gives the album a far greater focus and as a result emotional depth than any début album deserves to possess and is befitting of the bold, unashamedly pop sound that it peddles.
Throughout the record, Steve Mackey’s production shimmers both warmly and vibrantly, sounding at once like a throwback from the 1980s and futuristic. Factor in Sankey’s soaring vocals and Warmsley’s ingenious arrangements (familiar to those who’ve heard his solo work), not to mention a record that hardly dips in quality over its 12 tracks and you have a shoo-in for a late ‘record of the year’ contender. By the time a re-recorded version of perennial favourite Ghost Train shuffles by, and the almost impossibly perfect 1988 (sounding like the soundtrack for the end credits to an as yet unrealised teen drama) swells to its climax, you realise you’ve fallen for Summer Camp’s aforementioned idealistic bubble hook, line and sinker. You may only intend to visit Condale for a holiday, but pack well. You won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.