In 2009, Summer Camp came bounding onto our screens in a whirlwind of faded photographs, candyfloss, pompoms and envisaged cheerleader outfits. Yet thanks to a heady internet presence and a promotional ploy concocted by the band, their faces remained a mystery. Their allusiveness proved a success, and amidst rumours that theirs was music made by erstwhile Scandinavians and/or high school rejects from Ohio, Summer Camp’s profile steadily grew. All were proved wrong when, shortly before the release of their Young EP, Stool Pigeon revealed their line up to be Jeremy Warmsley, until that point a singer-songwriter signed to Transgressive, and his real-life partner Elizabeth Sankey.
With the exception of his trademark warble, Summer Camp’s downright girl pop gives little inclination of Warmsley’s previous project. 2006’s debut This Art of Fiction and 2008’s follow up How We Became bristle with folktronica and literary references, but Summer Camp’s music glows with a sort of faux-American homage to a depressed homecoming Queen. The premise of two Londonites singing about the loss of a culture they’ve never experienced could be hard to swallow, but somehow Summer Camp make it work.
Unlike their demos, which were fictitious through and through, Welcome to Condale hints at Summer Camp’s made-up biography. Bandying sound-clips from 80s teen films, the eponymous track and “Down” recall the duo’s British perspective, jibing at suburban life in comparison to its far more glamorous (and often more dramatic) silver-screen interpretations. Instantly catchy, the songs confirm Summer Camp haven’t lost their marbles – they remember where they were born, they’ve just overdosed on Sweet Valley High and Heathers. It’s obvious the album is an embellished fabrication, but it’s still entirely possible to get wrapped up in bent tiaras and bleeding mascara, singing into your hairbrush like you’re a 14 year old girl obsessed with American pop culture.
The story board of Welcome to Condale also affects Summer Camp’s sound. A brash drum machine keeps pace throughout all of the tracks while keyboard and synth are doused in glitter and sugarcane, tainted by the flick of silk spun hair. When Warmsley takes centre stage on “Brian Krakow”, his vocal is relatively distorted and well paired with Sankey’s desperate, imploring vocal on “Losing My Mind”. Elsewhere Summer Camp remind everyone of their citizenship with “Down”, a song that echoes the revelations of “Welcome to Condale” while also sporting a decidedly Los Campesinos! introduction.
As integral as their slightly silly make-believe history may be, Welcome to Condale establishes Summer Camp as a force to be reckoned with. It also proves the pair are undoubtedly talented musicians; no one else could get away with this kind of pastiche while still creating a twelve heightened and adorable tracks. Take away the context, and you still have a perfectly decent pop record, worthy of any end of year list.