Summer Camp

Summer Camp

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The London duo Summer Camp (Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley) began their career as a warped, '80s-loving bedroom pop project; sometimes they were even a bit chillwavey. Their first album, 2011's Welcome to Condale, erased all the warp from their mix and amped up the glitz, spinning from one super-slick interpretation of a pop style to the next. Unfortunately, the iffy moments outnumbered the strong, though those moments where it all came together in shiny, happy blasts of pop were lots of fun. Fast-forward to their next record, 2013's Summer Camp, and the result is the same, but different. The duo have gone all-out pop this time, giving the songs a brightness that's almost blinding and hooks that are so sharp you don't even notice them until you discover you're bleeding. The synths, the guitars, the drums, the vocals, the samples that pop up like pink frosting -- all are well polished and tidy, and they're all perfectly placed for maximum pop pleasure. Sankey's voice is especially featured, as it should be. Her ringing tone is the album's highlight whether she's digging deep into a slow ballad, shouting from the rooftops, or shimmying through a disco-fied dance number. The formula the band uses on the record is a familiar one in 2013; indeed, a couple weeks before Summer Camp was released, the similarly pop-focused band HAIM was all anyone could talk about. But when the formula works for Summer Camp, it really works. Songs like the low-key and dreamy "The First Time" or the pounding dance pop track "Crazy" feel like pop hits beamed down from the heavens, with the production, song, and performance all combining in glossy perfection. Even the tracks that just miss that rarified level, like "Night Drive" or the wonderfully happy and sad "Keep Falling," are great pop songs that most bands would kill for. The problem is that the pace is too breathless to maintain, and the highs are too high. When the band misses the mark, the songs land with a giant thud. Here's a list of the main offenders: the short piano ballad "Fighters" finds Sankey pushing her voice over the top while delivering some seriously trite lyrics; "Everything Has Changed" is a totally cheesy song that's made worse by some dorky guitar wangling and a beat that sounds borrowed from LFO (...not the good LFO), and "Phone Call" sounds like a Sugar Ray track fronted by Lisa Loeb, only not as fun. Erase these stinkers and the record ends up being a little on the short side, but also really fun and memorable. Leave them in, and you can sell the album for full price, but the poor listener has to jump over a bunch of tracks. Put Summer Camp in the category of bands that are too good to ignore, but too uneven to truly embrace. Summer Camp is frustrating proof of that sad fact.

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