Summer Camp have an air of mystery about them. Not much is known about the male/female duo other than their names and that they craft nostalgic ‘80s jams…mostly. Welcome To Condale is the band’s debut album, partly inspired by John Hughes films and the chillwave music scene. I wouldn’t lump Summer Camp into the chillwave genre–their sound is entirely indiepop–and I wouldn’t necessarily associate them with the John Hughes films of the ‘80s as easily as Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Twin Shadow. No, Welcome To Condale fits better with the unsung heroes of ‘80s cinema, the cheesier flicks that were shown on USA’s Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried hosting. Summer Camp provide plenty of “camp” with music that’s fun and never takes itself too seriously.
Welcome To Condale plays like a concept album where the singers introduce usto the characters of this community in California, focusing on the teens and their issues, including love, breakups, isolation, and obsession. The album begins with the infectious breakup anthem, “I’m Better Off Without You,” a song so suited for the ‘80s that it only sounds fit to be played through a cassette boombox. The energy of this track alone starts off Condale in a nostalgic fashion that the band seems to have an effective grasp over. Another stunner is “I Want You,” which delves into the possessive and obsessive nature of a relationship, whether one exists or if it’s admiration from afar. Like Sleigh Bells, some songs are over modulated and feel heavy on the ears, but the result is cleaner than the Sleigh Bells’ album. Summer Camp have a better pop sensibility than Sleigh Bells. The album’s nostalgic vibe is held together well through the band’s affection for synthesizers and distorted guitars and clear vocals.
They maintain their nostalgic rhythm for eight songs until “Done Forever” kicks in, and suddenly we’ve time warped from the 80s decade to 2011. The album’s production is crisper, dropping the over modulated sound of the album’s previous tracks. The duo’s mood sounds affected by the change, as their singing doesn’t seem as focused with the exception of “Last American Virgin.” Despite maintaining a fun attitude, the album’s change in tone from its previous tracks causes its momentum to sputter as it winds down. The band tries to regroup on the final track, “1988,” but it doesn’t rekindle the spirit of the album’s finer moments.
Even with that slip up, Welcome To Condale still proves better than most similarly themed projects. Since this is the group’s debut, they’re still finding their footing and discovering where they want to go with their music. Pains of Being Pure at Heart shifted from a similar sound to 90s-ish rock for 2011’s Belong, but they maintained that sense throughout the album rather than abandoning it. Once Summer Camp learns the importance of consistency, they’ll create an album that listeners will enjoy as a whole rather than just one part.