Did you ever feel like the 1980s American high school phase completely bypassed you? Speaking as a Londoner born in 1988, I feel like I’m way over due my fix, which no amount of John Hughes or Cameron Crowe could provide. Welcome to Senior High, Summer Camp: a lo-fi chillwave duo from London who make 80s dance-pop sound damn right cool and very much their own on their debut album, Welcome To Condale, and makes me feel all Lloyd Dobler all of a sudden.
The album hears a couple of Freshmen in lead singer Elizabeth Sankey and real life partner Jeremy Warmsley slide through all those angst ridden teenage moments you just can’t get enough of. From the lovesick loser to the psychotic stalker, the cruel arrogant jock to the gum-popping, spoilt bitch, Summer Camp’s debut could well be some kind of musical version of Weird Science.
Like so many of the high-school films, Welcome To Condale is a very quotable album. Opener Better Off Without You sprints out of the proverbial class, with not even a hint of a hall-pass. The delicious rock and roll hooks injected with timely synths accompanies Sankey’s plea with an unknown former flame to leave her alone, ‘You’re so annoying when you whine/You were always wasting my time’. The song is infectious, and Sankey’s adolescent complaints contextualises the album’s mood effectively. The particular draw is that, despite Sankey being quite cruel towards this individual, we are compelled to take her side. While Sankey ridicules the annoying ex in the opener, the roles are reversed on the fantastically disconcerting I Want You, which takes stalker-ish behavior to the next level. It has a pulsating and trance-inducing synth drive throughout, yet the overwhelming feature is Sankey’s disturbing declarations such as ‘I’d wrap my arms around you, and snap every bone in your back.’ Lovely.
But we shouldn’t hold this against Sankey. Her smooth, seductive sexy voice is an endearing feature on the album. I Want You is hard to fully enjoy because of the lyrics, but the voice makes you consider the prospect of seeing your name written in blood on the evening news – for a while. Summer Camp sees Sankey belting out lyrics with terrific aplomb, while the title track features an impressive wistful chorus as she impressively slides down the scale, with Debby Harry-style ease.
Like a teenager at the height of puberty, the mood of the album swings consistently. Nobody Knows You appears angry (about an outsider called Louis), Down is energetic, defiant, and quite ludicrously catchy, while Done Forever is tragic and lamenting. Though we are made plainly aware of the context (a lot of Summer Camp’s music as seen on their Young EP has very obvious and unsubtle sound-bites from cult classics), the variety of emotion and style makes this an incredibly engaging and listenable album. Ghost Train, the delightful pre-fame ditty, hears Sankey croon: ‘Autumn brought you to me/Speed from land to sea/Land and sea and back again/And now there’s only me/Alone’ is pure poetry, while finally, FINALLY those born in 1988 have a marvelous anthem to call their own.
A quick word for Jeremy Warmsley, whose backing vocals play a vital role on the album. Yet he more than holds his own as the Jock-ridden ultimator Brian Krakow, and also features in the exceptional Last of The American Virgins, featuring a playful and dreamy whistle which you cant help but imitate, tasty synth claps and chimes while Warmsley shows remarkable slide in his own voice, matching Sankey’s: ‘They don’t know/where we go/where the lights turn low’. The song encapsulates a long hot American summer in a way I never thought possible.
The one track that somehow manages to pip the other very fine songs to the post features a sumptuous duet. Losing My Mind is a fantastic and clever exchange, where the couple argues in some kind of anti Danny and Sandy You’re the One That I Want. Whether this is based on a real-life argument or not remains to be seen (the band are notoriously secretive) but ‘This house isn’t big enough for the both of us/if you wanna leave, then I guess you must’ adds an extra dimension to their creativity and source of inspiration.
Summer Camp’s ability to romanticise is neither too over-done nor generic. In fact it’s positively fresh and innovative. This draw to the sounds and style of the 1980s (as alluded below) can provide the ultimate escapism to a simpler time where society could be microcosmed within those high-school walls. One should not cite this attempt to snapshot this period as pretentious or lazy. Maybe, just maybe, music needs to look backwards to look forward.
Welcome To Condale is out now on Apricot/Mushi Mushi Records