Happy Camper is the second full-length album from the Austin, Texas band Summer Salt, released September of 2018. During the pre-release of this record, Summer Salt was doing very well – they had just added a fourth member to their self-proclaimed “coral reef rock” trio, they were touring extremely often, opening for bands such as “Turnover,” and even headlining tours with bands like “The Symposium” and “Hot Flash Heat Wave,” two bands that are slowly gaining more mainstream audiences. Not to mention their recent Spotify success with songs like “Candy Wrappers,” reaching upwards of seven million listeners. However, with commercial success comes fans, and it is up to artists to appreciate those fans. Unfortunately, in Summer Salt’s case, some of their members did not treat their fans very well.
Bass player and original member Phil Baier was accused of sexual harassment and assault by several fans on multiple accounts merely weeks before Happy Camper was released. Due to these horrific accusations, Baier was kicked out of the band. MJ Tirabassi, recently obtained rhythm guitarist and former member of the band The Walters, also left after such allegations surfaced. Not only did Summer Salt lose two of their members, but they also repealed from their record label right before the release of their new record and cancelled their upcoming tour, as stated in this announcement on the band’s Instagram, composed by remaining members Matt Terry and Euji Tsu: “Due to recent incidents, we are sad to announce that we will be parting ways with Epitah Records as we will be going on hiatus to process and fully discern what actions need to be taken in light of the accusations brought upon the band. With that being said, our fall tour will be cancelled and all tickets will be refunded. Again we are beyond sorry, and have decided we will be releasing our album independently within the next several weeks with all profits donated to a charity advocating and providing support to victims of sexual assault...”
Following such allegations, break-ups, tour cancellations, and the problematic turn of events, Summer Salt has recruited new members, putting out one new song, “Harvest Fair,” and although their music lives on, their reputation does not. Summer Salt lost most of their fan base due to all the aforementioned issues. Nevertheless, Happy Camper was recorded before any of the events described in such allegations, ultimately preserving the bands innocence and musical talent in this culmination of all of their musical stylings up to date, making it a very special record. It is hard to say if Summer Salt will regain popularity, but it is easy to fall in love with this romantic summer picnic record which tells tales of lovers who are separated by land and sea boundaries and teenagers sick in love over high school crushes. From broken down cars to “melted chocolate bars,” this record will make you feel like a 1960s American teenager, going surfing at the beach by day and taking your significant other out for a drive and a milkshake at the local diner by evening.
Despite the somber tone developed in the earlier half of this review, let's focus on the music. “Heart and My Car,” is a romantic summer love song, featuring the hypnotic falsetto of Terry, supported by the tranquil hums of Tsu and Baier. Jazzy guitar riffs, the tempo and fills kept by the drums, and smooth bass holds together a rhythm that makes you want to melt into the sand and just let that late afternoon tide pull you in and take you for a swim. It is hard to deny the instrumental chemistry, as well as the configuration of the trio’s musical composition in this album. As they have been playing together since high school, each member knows where the next instrument wants to go. The unique feature of this band and this record is the accompaniment each instruments provides to another, simply creating a matching sound, accenting the other instruments and adding onto the sound rather than trying to dominate it. Each member is there to support the other, creating an obvious fluid connection which truly is displayed in their music. While on a trip to beach paradise filled with romantic adventures and self-exploration during a time between childhood and adolescence, “Lovesick” tells the tales of a “..dizzy boy with love goggles on,” experiencing his first school crush and learning how to deal with it. This song will sweep you back to those grade school days, and give you the same butterflies in your stomach that you had when you got a Valentine’s gram from that secret admirer, sending you sailing across a sea of sentiment on a boat made up of affection and reassurance in true love.
This record features “Revvin My CJ7,” and “Candy Wrappers,” two songs from their 2017 So Polite EP. However, “Revvin My CJ7” was re-recorded for this record, offering an alternative take on one of their more popular songs, of which establishes a much warmer and interpersonal tone than the previously recorded version. This pairs much better with the romantic and amorous feel of this record. This album is a true culmination of all the band’s work. The 2016 Going Native EP featured a heavier bosa-nova sound, while So Polite took a smoother 1950s style with soft-rock composition. Taking sounds from both of these EPs, Happy Camper holds a great mix of the band’s musical tendencies and accomplishments. “Life Ain’t The Same,” the eighth song on the record, captures a heavier sound for the band, much like what we have seen in earlier songs like “Manastra.” In the title track, “Happy Camper,” we hear of a 1950s romance and tales of contentment in what the day has in store. Overall, I think this record will stand as a culmination of all the band’s work throughout their few short years of fame, as well as the last true record made by all original members, making it a unique preservation for their last and best record.