I was sitting on my couch fretting over the state of our country, scrolling through my Instagram feed, when I came upon a post by Valley Relics Museum, the nonprofit organization passionate about preserving and protecting historical and cultural artifacts from Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley and its surrounding areas. They'd shared the video premiere of Dark Side Of Light's version of Seals and Croft's "Summer Breeze." I was immediately taken back to the comfort of my childhood and the simpler times I grew up in.
DSOL is the "sound-child" of producers Nik Frost and Grant Conway (singer/songwriter and drums/beats respectively who share keyboard and programming duties), and the song is the first release off their self-titled EP for NWO Records. Liza Richardson has already played it on her Saturday night show for KCRW, but the entire EP has been in heavy rotation in my head. It's a cohesive yet eclectic set, that will evoke the cross-genre sensibilities of Tame Impala's often danceable neo-psychedelia, Gorillaz indie-electronica, Radiohead's sublime art rock, and Beck's lo-fi slacker-hop. And like Beck, DSOL invites all these influences back to L.A., where they apply a So-Cal feel, which is on display in their '70s-meets-90s twist on "Summer Breeze" and its accompanying video.
Frost and Conway aren't the only ones looking to the past to escape the present, and the Yacht Rock revival doesn't only appeal to Boomers and Gen X'ers, kids today have made Fleetwood Mac the #1 band again, Fleetwood Mac on Tik-Tok. Our nostalgia and retro culture is as much a medicine to them as it is to us, as they seek to escape their own time to time in which they never lived. They're all hip to Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, and The Beach Boys are huge again. But you may be asking yourself why we are talking about "Summer Breeze" and the Bummer Summer as we approach when winter is coming? It's simple. Let's be realistic, barring any miracle vaccine via Trump's promised Operation Warp Speed, COVID's not going away anytime soon. Dystopia is the New Normal, making the temporary analgesic from songs like "Summer Breeze" all the more necessary to cope with these tough times.
I must admit I'm a sucker for all retro and nostalgic. Don't tell anyone, but I even tear up when watching Cobra Kai marathons on Netflix. The whole show is basically an excuse to flashback to the clips from the original film, The Karate Kid. I think of nostalgia as an escape. I also happen to be a big believer in synchronicity, and just the day before I came across the "Summer Breeze" video, I did a cover story interview with Tame Impala's Kevin Parker. It just so happened that we talked about the concept of nostalgia as an escape, and he admitted that he always thought of Tame Impala music as escapist music. A few days later I'm talking to Nik Frost about the same thing. However, things aren't exactly how they appear to be in DSOL's foray into yacht rock. They do use nostalgia as an escape, but they don't go full on Rupert Holmes, sucking on Piña Colada's and cruising Tinder to replace their old ladies.
While it may not be quite the sludgy goth metal rendition that Type O Negative offered in the early '90s, this isn't just a straight-up faithful cover of the AM Gold-cum-Yacht Rock classic: Despite the shimmering guitar, swooning vocal, and the balmy Beach Boys-esque harmonies, there's an unsettling darkness about the ominous synths and fucked-up beats (which recall the funky grit of late '90s trip-hop). And if the silhouette of Frost's long, almost witchy, fingernails isn't enough of a tell that something wicked is goin' down at Dogtown, the reveal of the band performing in masks (face coverings, but the band members later don other masks that they could wear to an Eyes Wide Shut Party) makes it clear that this dream day at the beach may very well be a nightmare, or at least a bitch slap back to the reality of life in the middle of a global pandemic. And that, my friends, is a good way to represent the Bummer Summer of 2020. We wanted Frankie Avalon in Beach Blanket Bingo but we got Charlton Heston in The Omega Man (and if you've ever hunted for toilet paper and disinfectant and ran away from No-Masking zombies then you know it's hardly an exaggeration). Sadly, the summer of '20 will forever be defined by the number 19, COVID-19. The Coronavirus even found a way to cockblock a beloved Mexican beer brand.
COVID has wreaked havoc on the globe. Along with the pandemic came the tragic loss of life, pain and suffering, fear and panic, social distancing and quarantining, polarization and politicization, and the crash of the economy. All this with a side of civil unrest and social upheaval. And for musicians, there's a completely new landscape to navigate. Tours are in suspended animation or canceled altogether, career trajectories possibly shot down in flames. Many artists lost the nerve to go out there and promote out of fear of being judged as insensitive or unWoke. I read a recent press release from an artist who started out with an apology in advance if he's perceived narcissistic and tone-deaf to the seriousness of the moment. That's a heavy trip, right? On the positive side, there's more creative angst and free time to create, the silver lining for studio rats. It was in this environment that Frost and Conway started DSOL. Frustrated with the current music scene, needing a distraction and motivation during such a depressing and chaotic reality, the duo (with the aid of Ronnie Elvis James and Joe Perez on bass and guitar) quarantined together, literally becoming roomies in a loft at the base of the Hollywood Hills, with the mission of coming up with a new sound. . . even if it meant reaching to the past, which is how they ended up bringing "Summer Breeze" back to the future.
The "Summer Breeze" video is set at the Magic Hour in Southern California, AKA the Golden Hour, that time when The Sun makes its last stand against the night, bathing skater girls on Venice Beach with that euphoric-yet-narcotic, warm-all-over California Glow. Basked in this glow, and draped in tapestries of ombre' pinks-to-purples, blues-to-greens, and oranges-to-browns, a series of dissolves takes us on a magic carpet ride through images of earthy-yet-fabulously boho Cali lifestyle destinations: From the desert amongst the Joshua Trees, where the band starts the song, to the majestic bluffs and the beaches of Malibu where the girls frolic in the sand and sea, to another featured model in a vintage Camaro T-Top, driving through a spaceless boulevard of vintage neon signs. It's like an astral projected dream-state across dreamscapes of summer feels and retro bliss.
The Eden Tyler directed video cuts to the band performing in the museum (an airplane hangar in Van Nuys) where they're surrounded by the same vintage neon signs for Ben Frank's (the drive-in that became Mel's, as made famous in American Graffiti), the Tiffany Theatre, and other lost places suitable for KCET's Huell Howser's California Gold or Things That Aren't Here Anymore. The fact that the signs are of places that were, belies the potential saccharine nature of this sentimental journey with the vintage signage and the '70s song. Frost explains that the concept was to "have the band in this other world of the ghosts of the past, lit up in this beautiful neon, which is what Valley Relics is. I loved the idea of escaping to the past," he says, "and the lead actress plays a person traveling through different dimensions of time and space, while the signs kind of drift by her. But it's not real. It's all fake, and all part of this dream-state."
"The song is a reach back to try to grasp some kind of decent feeling," Frost explains. "It's comfort food for the soul. I found myself listening to '70s and '80s yacht rock during the pandemic because it was so awful and I was having so much anxiety over everything. So, I reached back to this old comfort food music and I was just thinking 'God this would such a great song to cover." Born and raised between the Los Angeles suburbs and the canyons of Malibu, Nik Frost could have been a surf punk if he wasn't a wunderkind with a wanderlust that brought him to Europe where cut his teeth in Cologne's cavernous electronic music scene, was mentored as a teen in Barcelona by the infamous Malcolm McLaren, later fronted the Universal & Sony Records garage band, The Bangkok Five, and became a desert/stoner rock fixture at the Rancho De La Luna studio out in Joshua Tree (where he might have picked up some of his occult-vibe) working with Chris Goss and company. It was Goss's participation in the alt-rock/trip-hop project, UNKLE that helped inspire him to assemble the non-band DSOL with Grant Conway, an Emmy Award-winning musician, composer, and music editor. But being steeped in the sonic history of the Canyons (Topanga and Laurel) that informed his sense of singer/songwriter sincerity, melody, and harmony. The imprints of Neil Young, Crosby Stills & Nash, and The Doors can be felt from his vocals, no matter how electronic or current the rest of the tracks are. The Southern California soft-rock of Seals and Croft's "Summer Breeze" was like mother's milk to him, or maybe father's milk. "I remember hearing it when I was a baby," he tells me. "I grew up with those records in the house before it became an ironic or guilty pleasure to love Yacht Rock. My dad had the Mellow Gold compilation on vinyl, and I was just thinking, 'Wow! What a great time for music."
We can never forget reality, nor do we want to, there's much work to be done, including on the social justice side (DSOL is donating the proceeds from the single to Operation Hope in the name of BLM), but even in the early '70s, coming out of inner-city riots, Vietnam, and Watergate, the Isley Brothers took the time to feel the breeze and smell the jasmine, with their own version of the song. Frost reflects, "In the '70s, it was like music and art were rebounding from the pain and trying to heal scars of the '60s. That's okay, It's how we comment, deal, and reflect on the sometimes harsh realities of life. And with what's going on in the world right now, we need the mental escape, release, and the healing power of music as much as ever."