Park the Van
Cayucas are an East LA-based band comprised of brothers Zach and Ben Yudin. Blue Summer is their fourth album, and it draws liberally on the Beach Boys, amongst other sunny, summer influences. I kind of see them as hanging with the ghost of 1960s Brian Wilson filtered through 1970s funk and the Australian, Jagwar Ma. Blue Summer is insanely catchy, like you just can’t help but bounce along to the fat bass line through the album.
The album is a mindful step by the brothers, with Zach reporting that
We were on tour and I had the idea to write a song called ‘Blue Schwinn’ to get back to our roots. We had this mantra: Back to the beach. That kickstarted the creative process. We were listening to a ton of Beach Boys music, fantasizing about living coastal again, and writing songs reminiscent of the original demos I wrote for Cayucas back in 2011—that’s kind of our base. For the first time in a while that idea felt really fresh and exciting; let’s go back to what really worked for us as songwriters and felt special, and what was most authentic for who we are as artists. To write songs that hearken back to where it all started now feels really good again.
And like I said, this is some catchy music. Zach and Ben’s voices are honeyed and sweet, and it certainly helps to create the ambiance they want here, as it allows them to both harmonize and sing solo to create this feeling where I am feeling like I’m sitting on the beach in California, kicked back, beer in hand, and enjoying the good life. As part of the process Zach describes, they dug up old drum loops, bass lines, and other samples from their archive, and then began playing some guitar, coming up with new riffs, and finding some vintage reverb, snd then Bob’s yer uncle.
They worked in their home studio, towards the end of last year and early 2020, before the clusterfuck of 2020 really sunk in, but the creative process was one I always find interesting, where essentially Zach took the ‘throw everything at the wall’ approach, particularly in creating ‘Malibu ’79,’ and then it was Ben’s job to see what stuck. And then they spent the spring refining, re-recording, everything short of mastering.
So back to the music, the album begins with the drum roll and funky bassline of ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah,’ before this subtle guitar riff steps in the right channel and the vocals begin and the song bounces along on this bassline, drum rolls, and this Beck c. Guero feel. Killer track.
And then ‘Malibu ’79’ kicks in, with that organ pump, and the drum roll of ‘Good Vibrations,’ and then we get a more calypso beat, creating this nostalgic feel about, well, Malibu Beach, c. 1979, which, I guess, is a good fifteen years past the Beach Boys surfer boy chic. But, whatevs. It is hard not to get caught up in that nostalgia.
‘Lonely Without You’ is a classic beach song, about a bon fire, and missing your girl, over an acoustic guitar and a propulsive bass, as the brothers harmonize and an electric guitar flitters in and out like the flames of that beach fire. The summer is coming to an end,
As the days go by I’m getting older
see the albatross over your shoulder
and I’m wiser than I was ..
but the nights are just a little bit colder
(A little bit, just a little bit)
(a little bit, just a little bit)
as I long for yesterday, the feelings wash away woah oh oh
‘Red-Yellow Bonfire’ continues the feel, that acoustic guitar, hand claps, about that California feel:
On an open road with nowhere to go
anyway the wind will blow
I want to roll the windows down
and just take it slow
hear the wolves howling in the dead of night
the hidden lizard and the firefly
cuz’ it use to be easy, back when it was easy.
‘Champion of the Beach’ begins with this syncopated, I think, guitar, before it bursts into view, like a bright sunny morning, and this country-esque lead guitar, but then that feeling is ruined by the warm honey vocals and the echo effect on them. The song is the story of the approach to the beach, complete with nonsense vocals in the chorus.
Taken altogether, Blue Summer, is a warm album, it is a reflection of a California summer before we were all even born, when things weren’t as messy and complicated as they are right now, where we don’t have a pandemic, we don’t have a loonbat in the White House, a petulant man-child in 10 Downing St., and the hard right of white supremacy and neo-Nazism on the creep in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and even Ireland. It is an escape, and that is what can create for us, a wonderful escape from reality. And right, thank you very much to the Cayucas, I have that escape I need. I can’t help but emerge from this album feeling better about, if not the world, at least my immediate surroundings.