Living in a large city like Chicago, New York or LA can in some ways make breakups easier than say a small town or even a mid-sized city where all the cool shit that both you and your ex like to do is in the same five-block radius and you’re bound to run into them at some point. God bless the anonymity of the big city. Virginia natives JG Kemper & Kara Lorraine, the singer/songwriter duo behind Summer Plans were strangers who were each going through breakups when they met. Naturally they began writing songs together, songs, which documented what each of them was going through. Yet it was not until years later that the pair independently each moved out to LA and finally got together to record their self-titled debut record Summer Plans.
Summer Plans opens with the glitzy alt-rocker “Waterside.” Though it deals with the dissolution of a relationship, it uses the shimmery ‘60s garage jangle pop guitar chords that Paul Westerberg put to such good use on his early solo records, many of which also dealt with unpleasantries. The next two tracks, the dusty sad and slow “Low” echoes of Ryan Adams more country tinged tunes, as does the even more so Adamsesque ballad “Porch Light.”
On “Telephone Poles” Kara Lorraine, who had been singing backup vocals, finally takes charge and belts out some angry yet hopeful lyrics, “you got the best of my love / but not the best of my heart,” she sings over rollicking piano. On “Lovers, Friends, and Ghosts,” a dusty rambler that comes closest to the California Canyon Rock style of the ‘70s, which the band cites as most influential in the making of this album, you can hear the grit in JG Kemper’s voice. It’s like he’s choking on every word that comes out of his mouth, as though after all these years the pain is still raw.
There is a transition then, when on “Your Bed” the pair picks themselves up on this upbeat organ-friendly rocker. The lyrics may still be a little sappy, but the music is uplifting which is exactly what Summer Plans needed to have happen here lest the listener get out the razor blades. Its successor “California Skies” is even more uplifting, and leads into the alt country rocker “Los Angeles” which closes the record with hope.
Summer Plans is definitely a record that captures emotions. Its track listing is an arc of the story lines JG Kemper & Kara Lorraine’s lives took from the Virginia breakup years to their respective recoveries out in LA. Though it’s not necessarily a genre I immediately flock to, I would argue in its defense with anyone trying to find fault with it. The arrangements are spot on and Kemper and Lorraine’s harmonization is amazing. Summer Plans is an album fraught with emotions, surely, and sometimes those emotions can be a little hard to take if you’re not in the breakup mindset, but as Elton John said, “When all hope is gone/you know sad songs say so much.”
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