Summer Camp’s 2010 EP Young signaled the arrival of a band with a really strong idea: taking '80s-influenced pop songs and running them through the murky chillwave sound (lots of wobbly synths, vocal reverb, and tinny drum machines) to end up with a sound that was akin to a David Lynch version of a John Hughes teen movie, a chilly, weird take on the '80s bolstered by Elizabeth Sankey’s brilliant voice and very strong hooks. On their first full LP, Welcome to Condale, Sankey is still astonishingly good, sounding like she could be a total diva but still having the restraint to fit herself snugly into the constraints of the songs. What’s changed is that the overall feel is less Lynch and more Hughes as the duo (Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley) has erased most of the warped weirdness from Summer Camp's sound, playing it relatively straight throughout. There are songs that would fit right into the track list of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack with nary a blink of an eye; “Better Off Without You,” “Summer Camp,” “Welcome to Condale,” “1988,” and “Down” all have immediate hooks and a slickly punchy processed sound that are perfectly '80s and unabashedly pop. Sankey and Warmsley sing together like their cinematic lives were on the line, producer Steve Mackey (of Pulp) bathes them in chilly synths, and you can imagine Molly Ringwald mooning over preppy guy as the songs play. These are the songs on the album that work the best; their lack of weirdness gives the melody and emotion a chance to sink in. The moments where the band tries to expand its scope a little are less successful. “Brian Krakow” shifts their sights to the '90s (My So-Called Life) and sports a cheesy rawk & roll guitar riff that the Jesus and Mary Chain may have thought twice about using; “Done Forever” casts Sankey as a torch singer but tacks on a corny drumbeat and sounds forced; “I Want You” tries for lyrical darkness (“I’d make you love me so much you’d have to ask permission to breathe”) but ends up a little on the far side of silly; and “Nobody Knows You” sounds like an overly dramatic Portishead castoff. These are likely growing pains of a band looking to get bigger and more artistic instead of just doing what it does best even if it isn’t a step forward. This urge is understandable, but sticking to their strengths would have made Welcome to Condale a better listen. As it is, if you delete the missteps, you can cherry-pick a really strong, really simple '80s pop EP from the remains.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra