Recordings

EV3's most purely enjoyable moment comes on the sweet, pop-gospel vocalizing on "Does Anybody Hear Me," and En Vogue breaks out with showstopping assurance on the a cappella workout "Let It Flow." But during the latter, the group sings, "What you need/Yes, indeed/Is a little funk from EV"--and the members could use a little bit of that themselves.

--Elvis Mitchell

Summercamp
Pure Juice
(Maverick/Reprise)

Summercamp's Tim Cullen seems to delight in tweaking listeners' expectations of his band's presumably warm sound. For every fleeting moment of churning, dreamy, melodic fare on the Santa Barbara quartet's debut album, Pure Juice, there are leagues of dour instances of downbeat non-fun. "I'm becoming a little stressed out/And it's all because of you," from "Nowhere Near," is nowhere/anywhere near Todd Rundgren's "Hello it's me/I've thought about us for a long, long time . . ." You feel a little gypped, as if by false advertising: Did they switch MPAA ratings on this film without telling anyone?

"I wish I knew you well enough," Cullen sings near the end of the recording, "but I'm quite convinced I'm alone at last." The song "Thing of the Past" is a yearning remembrance of suburban boyhood fantasia--lawns and yawns, parks and larks. Yet Summercamp refuses to stay in that time, choosing--mournfully, begrudgingly--to stay in the present day: In Cullen's eyes, youth is more than a paradise lost; it's also an unpleasant reminder of the death of his now-adult soul. Produced by Chris Shaw (Weezer, Redd Kross), Pure Juice is a bracing recording, not always pleasant, and far more challenging than the cushioned tones of other S.B. bands, such as Dishwalla or Toad the Wet Sprocket. Pure Juice is also aptly named: Cullen and co-songwriter Sean McCue keep wondering who the wise guy is who keeps ruining the lemonade with all that unwanted sugar--and water--but they should look into throwing a party the whole family can attend. "The Bright Side" starts with a peppy jangle that soon becomes perverse; just when you want it to make you dance, it turns inward upon itself, sadly becoming a shoegazer ode that only a failure (or--alternately--Failure, the band) could love.

Better are "On Her Mind" and "Drawer," which bring to mind the Goo Goo Dolls with tans, or the riffy "Ninety Nine," a song that makes everything else here soggy by comparison. The band needs far more hooky ammunition in its arsenal, despite the fine performances and pretty harmonies. If Pure Juice were a picnic, you'd leave it to the ants: Sure, the food's okay, but Summercamp makes it awfully tough to eat enjoyably under those gray clouds it's summoned with its rain dance.

--Joshua Sindell

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