Bad Love

Summer Camp

(Digital Download - Pias #PIASDIGITAL505)

Review by Tim Sendra

After one album that was stuck in the '80s and one that tipped too far in the direction of slick radio pop, Summer Camp's third album, and first to be self-produced, shows the band finally starting to forge some kind of unique identity. Bad Love starts off with a four-song segment that downplays their love of '80s pop, adds some '90s grit, and has a tougher, more exciting sound, bringing in fuzzy shoegaze guitars, punchy tempos, and impassioned vocals. It's a bracing start and at least one of the songs, the opening "Bad Love," sounds like a sure-fire hit single. The others get the arrangements just right and have cute little bits that stand out like shards of glass on a sidewalk; the vocal counterpoint between Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley on the dramatic "Beautiful" and the keening guitar lead on "Sleepwalking" are two fine examples. They sound like a totally revitalized group, brushing away the gauzy haze of previous efforts with a forceful wave of their hands. Unfortunately, they can't quite keep it up and the record gets a little soft around the middle. The loping "Horizon" is some fluffy singer/songwriter pop that would be good for a Voice audition; "Run Away" is glossy, HAIM-lite balladry that's so slight it barely registers; and "Angela" is drippy soft rock that's bland and forgettable. This sudden lurch into over-produced, undercooked pop is a shock and a shame. The nostalgic "Drive Past Your House" isn't half bad though, and suddenly some hope creeps in that maybe the ship will right itself. Amazingly, it does! "If You Hate Me" provides a boost of energy, with Sankey pushing her vocals past her usual sweetness into something more urgent and Warmsley's guitars diving back into shoegaze territory. "Keep Up" displays some fine urgency too, with the tempo positively jumping, the hooks slashing, and the words tumbling out in a welcome rush of emotion. Here's the thing though. Between these two great songs, they manage to squeeze in the album's worst song by far. The gratingly sappy "Everlasting" aims to be a big '80s ballad that comes complete with gated tom-toms, programmed tambourine hits, and oversaturated, syrupy backing vocals. That three-song section is the album in a nutshell. It's half the work of a band looking for new way to move ahead, half the work of a band giving in to the overdone, mannered mistakes that made its previous album so spotty. The most frustrating aspect of the record is that they are obviously trying hard to find their own sound and they almost get there. Certainly on "Bad Love" they do; a few other times as well. Maybe next time they'll figure it out. Until then, a little careful curating and the listener should be able to make a pretty great EP out of this almost-there album.

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