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Album review: Summer Camp – ‘Welcome To Condale’

November 11, 2011

Summer CampWelcome To Condale (Apricot Recording Company / Moshi Moshi). Available here.



When LCD Soundsystem put down hipsters for their “borrowed nostalgia for an unremembered Eighties” in ‘Losing My Edge’, they obviously felt the past is a foreign country that young people should avoid visiting. But when Elizabeth Sankey sings about relationship woes in ‘1988’ – set in a period where it’s hard to imagine she was even pushed out of the womb yet – it’s so affecting it’d be churlish to complain.

Sankey and cohort Jeremy Warmsley, who together make up Summer Camp, have created a fictional Californian town perpetually stuck 25 years ago, a place in which all their songs’ characters can yearn, weep, hang out, break hearts and grow old too quickly. Welcome To Condale is an album heavily influenced by onscreen depictions of North American suburbia – be it John Hughes films, found home movies or Sweet Valley High – and at its centre are two fictional leading ladies, one a lovesick teenager, the other a fading Hollywood starlet. This means that the band can focus on tales of both unrequited adolescent romance and decaying glamour, two themes they write about especially well (and to melodies catchier than flu you caught off Beyonce).



Indeed, ‘I Want You’ expresses teenage longing just as effectively as, say, ‘Baby Love’ or  ‘Be Mine!’, albeit in a more sinister way: “If I could I’d kiss your lips so hard your entire face would bruise / Write your name in blood on every wall, it would make the evening news.” Meanwhile, tracks like ‘Nobody Knows You’ and ‘Done Forever’ are so seeped in regret and melancholy it makes Sankey sound old beyond her years, and not because the songs are set in a different decade.

[Incidentally, after playing the nostalgic backside off Welcome To Condale I decided to go back and listen to Warmsley‘s solo album The Art Of Fiction, and the contrast is quite staggering. While the songs on both are melodically and melancholically narrative-based, The Art Of Fiction feels like a set of dusty photographs, whereas Welcome To Condale feels like a moment in time doomed to skip and repeat itself forever, like the car outside the church in that episode of Doctor Who. Or, to put it another way, The Art Of Fiction sounds like it’s emanating out of a haunted jewellery box, while Welcome To Condale sounds like it’s being sung by ghosts stuck inside an early edition of Dream Phone (not sonically, of course – the band and Steve Mackay have done an amazing production job.)]

Simon Reynolds in his recent book Retromania pointed out that the Eighties revival has now been going on longer than the 1980s themselves. As long as it produces albums like Welcome To Condale – i.e. albums that don’t suffer from the law of diminishing returns / sound as good if not better than most LPs from the time they’re fetishising – then as far as I’m concerned it can keep going as long as it wants.

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