Last month, Summer Salt released their first full length album, “Happy Camper,” which, in my opinion, is the best album of the fall. Blending the sound of beachy 60s pop-rock with a modern lo-fi undertone, Summer Salt creates something special with their first LP. It is an album that I didn’t even know I needed until I had it. Although Summer Salt is from Austin, their sound is comparable to the Chicago bands The Walters and Whitney. Walters fans will love the doo-wop harmonies; Whitney fans will love lead singer Matt Terry’s falsetto. If you’re a fan of both bands, then you’re really in luck. An album that is the musical equivalent to rolling your windows down on a fall day, “Happy Camper” will help you breeze through the rest of fall and well into winter.
“Happy Camper” opens up with not one but two breezy tracks about cars and being sad. I know, that sounds weird. And that doesn’t necessarily sound like good music, either. Somehow, though, Summer Salt makes it work. “Heart and My Car” and “Revvin’ My CJ-7” are both so pleasant-sounding that the lyrics come second. The harmonies, beachy guitar, and falsetto take center stage. The simple lyrics help showcase everything else going on in the songs.
Track 5, “Candy Wrappers,” is a fan favorite. Previously released as a single, “Candy Wrappers” was one of my first sweet tastes of Summer Salt. It got me hooked, and it is a solid representation of how most of their music sounds—relaxed, carefree, and focused on a holistic sound rather than on profound lyricism. In fact, most everything on “Happy Camper” focuses on an overall pleasantness—nothing serious is mentioned lyrically because the music is not supposed to be serious. “Happy Camper” is 40 minutes of forgetting your worries, sitting back, and enjoying life. It is an escape from the serious stuff. It transports you elsewhere.
Songs like “Seventeen,” “Lovesick,” and “Life Ain’t the Same” talk about innocent teenage love. For much of “Happy Camper,” Summer Salt reverts back to an earlier time in their lives. While it may seem silly for a group of men in their late 20s to reflect back on feelings they had a decade ago, I think it makes the album all the more sentimental. Easy, breezy music requires easy, breezy lyrics. Life gets less easy and less breezy as it goes on, but these features are perhaps at their peak in the teenage years. Life isn’t too complicated yet—it is Summer Salt’s lyrical sweet spot.
I love this album. However, I have gone back and forth about writing this review for weeks because Summer Salt disbanded due to sexual assault allegations just before the album’s release. All the proceeds from “Happy Camper” are being donated to victims of sexual assault. At first, I thought it was inappropriate to write about this album given the band’s actions. Then, I thought it was inappropriate to simply ignore the issue without addressing it. It raises an important question that music lovers should talk about: As listeners, what is the appropriate course of action to take when a band we love does something like this? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that the issue is increasingly relevant in the alternative music scene (see: The Orwells; Real Estate). Do we stop listening to them altogether, even as longtime fans? It is a moral gray area, but these issues are important to think about. Overall, “Happy Camper” is a masterpiece, but Summer Salt halted their success early on. It is a shame to only catch a glimpse at what could have been.