Summer Camp – Young EP

In Summer Camp on September 19, 2010 at 07:30

Written for Muso’s Guide

If you’ve seen the video to ‘Round The Moon’, the first single to be released from this EP, you’ll know that the initial guise of a band of Swedish teenagers that Summer Camp went under wasn’t a complete red herring. Pieced together from the obscure flick A Swedish Love Story, the video manages to distil this real life couple’s obsessions perfectly, those being 80s Brat Pack flicks, summer, and High school romances. The images of tear-stained, leather-clad teenagers clinging to each other for dear life fits with Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey’s project to the extent that it seems almost unfair to call it a guise. Those blurry photos of fuzzy-haired teenagers in stripy t-shirts and large-framed glasses that were initially presented to us on their myspace page simply depict the escapist world Summer Camp inhabit right now. And even though they’ve broken the enigma, they still rely upon it to it to the extent that it’s hard to see past those hazy ideals of teenage romance: the Young EP is saturated in them. High school romances have been plundered for all they’re worth, both as source of escapism and sadness that results from reminiscing (“I’ll never be young again”, Liz sings on ‘Veronica Sawyer’). It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the result is nostalgic to the point that it comes close to being a self-indulgent geek-fest. Fortunately, the songs more than stand up for themselves.

It’s hard not to imagine that these bedroom recordings have been put together inbetween repeat viewings of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Their association with John Hughes’s films is so heavy that you’d be disappointed if Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick didn’t teleport in live alongside Liz and Jeremy to complete the band. All of the references are present and correct, from Say Anything to Teen Wolf and Heathers. Production wise, the Young EP sounds fuzzy, a little bit shambolic, and scratchy as fuck, which is how you’d expect it to be. ‘Ghost Train’, the song that has introduced so many people to Summer Camp, remains as brilliant as ever within the EP context, its girl-group vocals and twinkling synths a joy. ‘Round The Moon’ sounds bigger and glossier than anything else, and that’s partly down to Jeremy’s vocals, which add the kind of roundness lacking elsewhere. It also helps that the chorus is the finest piece of unrestrained teenage yearning here, Liz’s backing vocals binding onto Jeremy’s to create a huge emotional swell: “And we’ll dance all night/Hold each other close to the morning light/Come on home with me and it’ll be alright”. Other tracks―such as the slightly flat ‘Was It Worth It’―could have benefitted from the between the male-female interplay as Liz’s voice occasionally strains and stretches beyond its limits. Not that that matters much when it’s so apparent that these two are having an amazing time remembering what it was like to feel 16 again.


Zola Jesus – Stridulum II

In Zola Jesus on September 8, 2010 at 09:01

Written for Muso’s Guide

You may well turn round whilst listening to Zola JesusStridulum II on the bus with the full expectation of witnessing Buffy on the back seat roundhousing a zombie‚ such is this record’s ability to drag you, fully-clothed, into its netherworld. However, it remains an album that transcends all the ugly cliches of the genre to reveal itself as a record concerned with very human emotions. The album cover, which appears to be of someone getting drenched with melted chocolate or some other kind of dark goo, would suggest a sludgefest. Stridulum II, however, comes across as a wholly natural development for Zola Jesus from lo-fi towards a more commercial goth-pop sound.

You could say that Nika Roza Danilova, the Wisconsin-born singer behind the name, is preoccupied with the same schtick that has seen bookshops devote whole teen sections to the genre of vampire romance‚ tapping into teenage sexual awakenings and overflowing, obsessional desire. However, that would be a disservice, especially since her talent reveals a maturity way beyond her 21 years, as well as a fascination in far more obscure references to horror such as the 1979 film this album was named after, a short clip of which features on the title track.

These songs seem purpose built to fit around Danilova’s thick operatic voice‚ with swathes of booming, cavernous noise making the whole record sound like it’s being transmitted from an underworld chamber. The drums, which switch between the tribal and militaristic, provide minimalistic backing rather than dictating changes in mood. Alongside the synths, they provide a subtle darkness that never comes close to challenging Danilova’s voice, instead allowing it to steadily grow and take control over the dynamics of each track. It’s undoubtedly the best thing about Stridulum II, growing on each track from a morose slumber to unleash the kind of insatiable desire and longing that’s seemingly been dormant for ever.

This dramatic build from minimalistic intros to swirling, dramatic closes is blueprinted from the off. The opener, ‘Night’, manages to distil everything good about this record in three and a half minutes, its muffled whispers setting a tone that’s suitably inviting and unsettling. Lyrically, Danilova is at her best here – compact and direct, focusing on that classic conflation of sex and death, as she promises her lover‚ “In the end of the night we’ll rest our bones”.

Unfortunately, there’s no other song here as fully realised as ‘Night’, and, although each maintains an atmospheric intensity of its own, there is an unwillingness to break away from the same pattern. This means that the second half of Stridulum II suffers from the weight of repetition, even though there’s no drop in the quality. In fact two latter tracks, ‘Tower’ and ‘Sea Talk’, feature two of the best choruses on the record. On ‘Sea Talk’, Danilova seems to let the mask slip a little, just enough to make her emotions seem vulnerable: “Do you really know that I care?” she asks. It’s a passion that doesn’t come across as strange or unsettling, but is surprisingly comforting in its familiarity because, at it’s heart, it’s about the basic desire for human company.

Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 2

In Robyn, Uncategorized on August 22, 2010 at 03:02

The potential novelty value of Robyn releasing three albums this year, each part of the same body of work, has been eclipsed by the number of great songs she’s recorded so far. And I can safely say this even though we’re only at album number two—such is the quality of material on offer throughout this record to bolster the excellent Part 1.

Robyn’s format has bumped up the level of excitement surrounding each release much in the same way that a string of brilliant singles used to build expectation before an album release. For once, it’s not only the songs we’re buying into, but the concept behind their release. If Parts 1 and 2 had contained filler, we’d justifiably be complaining that Robyn should have cut the fat and made one 12 track album from all three records. But, so far, each record has worked on its own terms, as a complete album, as well as part of the wider development of Body Talk. Robyn may not have planned the final tracklistings—deciding instead to release the material as it’s recorded—but she has still maintained cohesion. The first part confidently skipping from one genre to the next, the second more youthful, holding firm to the blueprint of Robyn’s self-titled LP. In an interview earlier this year with Popjustice, Robyn described her intention of working upon the two strongest aspects of her self-titled record, the “kick-ass” and the emotional. Only she appears to be a lot better at the emotional these days. I doubt there’ll be a clearer example of the divide between these two types than the penultimate and closing tracks on Part 2: ‘U Should Know Better’ and ‘Indestructible’. The former, featuring Snoop Dogg, has a beat that’s a little bit too crazy for its own good, not to mention some pretty awkward stereotyping, “I crashed a party with the Czar/Threw a molotov cocktail in the bar”. There’s more than a slight whiff of “aren’t they too old for this pseudo-gangsta posing?” about it, even though that posing is tongue-in-cheek. ‘Indestructible’, on the other hand, is a bona-fide classic in the making, a glorious ballad that sits proudly against anything Robyn’s done before.

‘Criminal Intent’ sees Robyn pulling off a bit of attitude with more conviction and composure that on the Snoop collaboration. Vocally, it’s tighter, and there’s a better balance between fun and dirty with handclaps, screeches and sirens all combining well in the mix. ‘We Dance To The Beat’ is the spacey, minimal successor to ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’, while ‘Include Me Out’ continues in the vein of ‘Dancehall Queen’ and ‘Fembot’ with its feminist call to arms “hail to the pillar of the family”.

Yes, they may be short, but Parts 1 and 2 hold together as consistently enjoyable records in their own right. Better than that, they also compliment, and interact with, each other. There’s a huge appeal particularly to Robyn recording both acoustic and electronic versions of the same song. She’s picked some tracks with real emotional force, tracks that are able to renew and reinvigorate the Body Talk series by solidifying it thematically. ‘Hang With Me’ has been reworked from its string-laden origin on Part 1 into a fine glossy pop song here, the first drawing out the sadness in the song, the second full of hope and opportunity. If the acoustic version of ‘Indestructible’ doesn’t whet your appetite for the 3rd release, you need your ears checking.