Cayucas – Dancing At The Blue Lagoon

If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.
Malala Yousafzai

The concept of home, and it is indeed a concept, is a powerful thing. Throughout history people have longed to be at home, but what really is home? It’s far more than a house, even the house you grow up in doesn’t always feel like home. Home towns that once seemed the centre of the universe can become little more than memories of a youth well lived. The school, the village green, the local pub, the places of your upbringing, do not a home make when the people are gone, but people are still somehow connected to their homes, it’s why the question “where are you from?” can be so difficult to answer. Towns maybe be social constructs, but still we obsess over them, everybody has to belong somewhere and has to be intrinsically linked to a town or a city, a place that defines them more than it has any real right to.

From Arcade Fire‘s depiction of The Woodlands, a suburb of Texas, to The Kinks recollections of growing up on the Village Green’s of rural England, bands have regularly looked back upon their home towns with a nostalgic tint, even if they have long since left the place behind. The Housemartins used their debut album as a press release for their home town of Hull: London 0 Hull 4, apparently tying into the number of great bands from each city at the time, a band from a Northern city warning about the dangers of moving to London, plenty have taken the same line since!

Perhaps our favourite depiction of home came from last year’s superb A Letter Home, where Neil Young attempted to recreate the feel of his youth, not by singing about his hometown of Winnipeg but by actually recreating the sounds of his home. It saw Neil take to a Voice-O-Graph vinyl recording booth and record covers of all his favourite songs, a homage to his late mother and the home she created which inspired Neil to become the musician he would end up becoming, think we can all agree that we’re very thankful for that particular home!

CAYUCAS – DANCING AT THE BLUE LAGOON

cayucas-hi-01

Back in 2013 Cayucas emerged from the ashes of singer Zach Yudin’s solo-project Oregon Bike Trail with their excellent debut album Bigfoot. It was an explosion of surf-riffs, African rhythms and songs about California, and California Girls. It was a blast of Californian sunshine, sure it had no huge amount of lyrical depth, but it captured the mood of 1960’s night-clubs in the surf craze, of dreamy-eyed teenagers making at eyes at one another on beaches, and it was an absolute blast!

What started off as a bedroom recording project, became a worldwide touring band pretty much overnight, with the superb High School Lover, the single that saw them get attention across the planet, and a shed load of Vampire Weekend comparisons. Which of course meant when they came to record their second album, things were a little different, their was expectation, a pressure to do something different and tap into a different mood, a different feeling, and the bands second album, Dancing At The Blue Lagoon in many ways does just that.

Where Bigfoot sounded like a party, Dancing At The Blue Lagoon is a nostalgic affair. Bigfoot was a Los Angeles party record, Dancing At The Blue Lagoon is a reminiscence on a different side of California, recalling Zach’s childhood in Davis; a relatively sleepy university town, noted as the most bicycle friendly town in the world and with its efforts to reduce light-pollution and Picnic Day, it sounds delightful, but a million miles away from the bright lights and bustle of LA. It is perhaps unsurprising then that this album is a more nuanced affair, less bristling with energy, and more quiet contemplation, it’s this change in mood that is both the albums most fascinating facet and in other ways it’s weakness.

Musically, it’s a real triumph, a band stepping out of their comfort zone, and exploring a much broader range of sounds, but lyrically it’s distant and insular, the band retreating so far into personal experience that it becomes almost impenetrable and impossible to relate to. If there’s one track that sums up this album perfectly, it’s Backstroke. The intro all clipped percussion and heavy bass gives way to the frankly terrible attempt to be odd, the backing vocals, a strange low tone as they sing, “baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack stroke, back stroke” for seemingly no reason at all, gives way to a wonderfully poppy chorus about an, “expressionless directionless coasting drifter, staring at the wall” and the whole track has a neo-noir detective story vibe. It would all result in the track being just fine, but then closing outro is absolutely brilliant, a swaying beat and jaunty Paul Simonish guitar behind, a beautiful vocal delivery of seemingly meaningless lyrics about how,  “sometimes you fantasise about being draped in the yellows and Tahitian blues” what it means, not a clue, but it sounds beautiful!

The low point is probably Hella, with a rhythmic, almost half-rapped, delivery, it’s a cryptic collection of memories and characters that the listener has no idea about, and the band make no real effort to explain; instead spouting lines like, “hockey equipment beneath the bed, Sun-Tzu calendar on the wall, deflated basketball”. If it’s meant to be an invite into Zach’s life, it gives you no clues on how to patch it together, just a series of unrelated artefacts, on top of that the chorus, “T-shirt read Jesus saves and he was yelling out no valleys Hella, Hella, Hella” is just a bit annoying on repeat listens.

If Hella is the low point, there’s plenty of excellent moments elsewhere the single Moony Eyed Walrus is an absolutely brilliant pop song, all muted guitar picking and distant nostalgia tinged strings, it’s one of the catchiest tracks of the year to date. A Shadow In The Dark maybe slightly engulfed in their love of early Vampire Weekend; with it’s pulsing bass, rapidly meandering guitars and lyrics about college, but it also includes a delightful breakdown where piano, flutes and tight vocal harmonies that pay-homage to the Beach Boys, which  takes the song in an entirely different and superb new direction. Whilst the title track takes on a gentle Latin-lilt,  there’s the same playfulness with rhythms and melodies perfected by Devendra Banhart.

Probably the best moments are the albums first and last, the closing track Blue Lagoon (Theme Song) is a beautiful stripped back acoustic and vocal number with shades of The Walkmen’s more intimate moments, whilst the opening track Big Winter Jacket is probably their most ambitious moment to date. A perfect start to the album, it’s a dramatic, cinematic number, all swirling strings, pulses of tuba and gentle horn melodies, the strings pick up, piano and drums enter and the whole thing builds to a delightful crescendo of instruments, the lyrics a splurge of loose memories of youth, and growing up, it’s the same nostalgic feel as elsewhere, but for once you feel he’s actually letting the listener in a little, giving us something we can appreciate.

It’s an album that’s equal parts frustrating and exciting; you can’t blame them for trying something new, but there’s the feeling that it doesn’t quite suit them, they’re a band at their best when they’re fun and uplifting, but trying to splice that with nostalgia and a complex, more personal feel, they’ve perhaps lost that sense of fun. It bodes well for their long term future that they’re branching out, and as musicians they’re far too accomplished to not continue to garner interest, but this album isn’t the triumph it could have been, nor the triumph you feel they’re bound to produce at some point in their career, assuming they get the chance to.

Dancing At The Blue Lagoon is out June 22nd on Secretly Canadian. Cayucas tour Europe in September including a London date at The Sebright Arms.

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