Welcome to Condale
, November 14th, 2011 09:11
Granted, the memory will play its tricks, but wasn't being a kid in the 80s a simple affair? Not according to Summer Camp. While their indie brethren use simplistic music to signify simplistic times, the Londoners' busy debut clashes the customary synthy signifiers against all manner of hyperreal ear candy, evoking a Reagan era childhood made garish, unnaturally intense, and overstimulated by the golden age of Americanisation. Produced by Pulp's Steve Mackey, Welcome to Condale conflates loops, house beats, movie samples, synth metal guitars, deep bass and fancy drum sounds, conjuring the mental state of a generation whose grasp on reality was forever diminished by Spielbergian suburbia, Drew Struzan posters and the heightened perfection of John Hughes' middle-class teenhood: electric dreams that wiped the floor with real life in sleepy, grey Britain.
On further inspection, however, the concept here is more complicated again. Welcome to Condale charts a pulp romance firmly of the Sweet Valley High build. Simple enough, you say? Ten-a-penny in indie circles? Well, not exactly. This is the 80s as experienced by your older teen siblings, but reordered, thirty years hence, through the pop-culture warped, false memories of the era's children; the first victims of a kind of childhood simulacrum effect.
What Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey remember is no more real than projections on the satin; the stories - concerning a bickering love / hate teen romance - only the imagined accounts of the lives of those older boys and girls, pieced together from first memories of Bratpack films, tears to Starship from the other bedroom, and risque A-HA videos. The duo-cum-couple resemble the neighbourhood boys of The Virgin Suicides, pouring over the fated sisters' scrapbook and "coming to hold collective memories, of times we hadn't experienced".
It's a strange magic they conjure time and again, over the course of a hook-laden record: what essentially amounts to a danceable mood-piece. '1988', with its key-change chorus, new wave feel, and moonlit synths, transports you to a pastel pink and baby-blue fantasia; the Go-Go's and heavy petting under the punch bowl. Equally bewitched, the title track bounces along like The Drums, but is lyrically darker and more idiosyncratic than any teenie-bopper popster would have risked with the same material, creating a sort of cognitive dissonance. Elsewhere is 'Done Forever', also a subtly curious thing. Between the dust-caked synths and Sankey's strangely old-fashioned vocals – redolent of Chrissie Hynde crooning gin-depression pop like The Carpenters - the gut feeling is one of displaced reality. What emerges is something like the credit sequence for daytime lynchpin Santa Barbera, and the psychedelic boredom of waiting for children's television in the summer sun, tinny Bananarama coming through the radio.
Then there's 'Better Off Without You' - a recent highpoint in 80s revivalism which channels Black Kids and the overlooked Ladyhawke into a modern wedding-disco standard. Meanwhile, the bubblegum-pink 'Last American Virgin' couldn't be more adolescent if it picked its braces and robbed your milk money. It too is touched with the suggestion that all is not as it seems; the implication that rather than playing eternally in the summer of youth, the characters are trapped there like Anne Rice's 'Claudia'.
As noted, Welcome To Condale incorporates elements which are anachronistic of the 80s milieu. The reason it works, if you want to theorise, is because everything that occurs in Welcome to Condale, does so in the abstract, where time is squeezed and non-linear, kind of like dream logic. Either way, the upshot is a more accomplished sound. You wouldn't catch Wavves, for example, churning out trance modulations, as on 'I Want You'. Or consider also 'Summer Camp' which could be Apparat at the drive-in, and 'Losing My Mind', a percussive elaboration on 'Ghost Train' but with hints of Grandaddy.
Welcome to Condale is a refreshingly ambitious, variegated take on the 80s both conceptually and in its execution. Above all else, it is an evocative meditation on childhood lived in the decade during which Hollywood perfected its genius for dream-weaving. The kids' own imaginations never stood a chance. Listen to Welcome To Condale, if you like, as a partner piece to M83's Hurry Up We're Dreaming, both albums feeling somehow like an apical conclusion to the 80s revival. The latter opens with a child's whisper: “We didn't need a story, we didn't need a real world / We just had to keep walking / And we became the stories, we became the places". Like M83, the pop duo Summer Camp have turned architects of their very own playground utopia.