Sometimes, a band's style can be as confining as it is defining. In Cayucas' case, the limits of their retro-leaning, sample-heavy indie were starting to show on 2015's Dancing at the Blue Lagoon. Following that album's release, Zach and Ben Yudin took some time to rethink their music, and with the help of producer Dennis Herring, they give their sound a significant makeover on Real Life. Polished with synths and punctuated by bigger and louder beats than any of their previous music, Cayucas' third album boasts a neon sheen that's in keeping with late-2010s pop but also remains true to their past. The Yudins are no strangers to using nostalgia as creative fodder -- Zach constructed the band's earliest songs from samples of '60s pop records -- and that continues on Real Life's songs, which are full of dreams of girls who got away, old photos tucked in dresser drawers, and places where the grass always looks greener. However, the album's updated sound lets Cayucas look back on a more specific, and more recent, past than the Yudins explored on Bigfoot and Dancing at the Blue Lagoon. The late '90s are a major touchstone, popping up on the sleek, synth-driven "Winter of 98" and "Jessica WJ," an irresistible homage to a long-lost high school friend that proves Cayucas haven't lost any of their bounce. More importantly, their songwriting hasn't lost any of its warmth or relatability. The title track is a clever, witty anthem about the pre-life crisis that occurs while waiting for "real life to begin," while the Bigfoot-like acoustic pop of "Alligator" closes the album by bringing its nostalgia full circle. Though Real Life brings some changes, it stays true to the spirit Cayucas' music has had since the beginning.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares