Being among the most recognizable artists in Hawaii is more often challenging than it is glamorous. Just ask Iration, or better yet, Henry Kapono. It means living up to higher expectations each time. Kolohe Kai set those expectations for themselves early on, so in many ways it’s themselves they have to live up to. Since making a splash on the local airwaves in 2009, Kolohe Kai has released 3 albums and a handful of singles in recent years. The “rascals in the water” are back with Summer to Winter, a vibrant and surprisingly matured full-length album marking the 10-year anniversary of their debut, and my, is it a welcome and momentous return.
“Natural High” is a lush opener easing you into Kolohe Kai’s head-bobbing vibes and singer Roman De Peralta’s youthfully present vocals. If Summer to Winter’s release has felt like an eternity, then Kolohe Kai savors the anticipation by pulling back the volume and clearing way for a free-floating ocean atmosphere in which fans old and new can happily dive into. For Kolohe Kai, this sensation comes naturally.
A great many words can describe De Peralta’s alluring voice. One that comes to mind early on: confident. “Will You Be Mine” omits the question mark at the end as De Peralta sings with the green-eyed certainty of a first crush: She wears her heart right on top her sleeve/And I know she needs a man like me. The lone string arrangement is the perfect soulmate to De Peralta’s swooning lyrics.
Kolohe Kai, at this juncture, is all Roman De Peralta. On tour he performs with a dedicated band if only because he doesn’t have 8 hands to cover all the instruments— as much as it may seem like it in studio. “Follow the Waves” is all the more remarkable for its sweet mixture of delicate ukuleles and artificially-layered beats echoing ear to ear.
Three songs in and Roman De Peralta has already pushed what we’ve come to expect from Kolohe Kai. “Breathe” boasts the triumphant horns that outlined the symphonic qualities of their early carefree sound. This time around, there’s more room to breathe between rhythms as one harmony washes over you followed carefully by the next.
One listen of “Round and Around” and it’s easy to see why the song is Kolohe Kai’s current single. It’s as quiet and subdued an anthem as it is wholly uplifting one. We got to go, it’s time to grow through obstacles/Round and around we go – a sentiment not lost on locals where, on an island, we’re literally bound to see the same things over and over again. De Peralta’s shining optimism promises newer and grander revelations each time.
From singing about ehu girls and cooling down at the beach, to an emotionally wholesome track like “Round and Aound,” Kolohe Kai has come a long way. Sonically, it’s distinctly Roman De Peralta’s project. Artistically, Summer to Winter charts a surreal growth in themes, composition, and sound. Roman was in high school when Kolohe Kai’s This Is the Life dropped in 2009. Life brings with it both experience and humility, and the two appear to have shaped Roman as an artist who once wrote catchy summer tunes, and now crafts enriching and impactful modern jams.
This maturation in sound lends to an occasional melancholy song like “It Hurts So Much,” a track that high school-De Peralta would’ve shied away from. This De Peralta has no problem wearing the hurt on his sleeve, and only he can take an old school love-and-woe proclamation and make it feel relatable to today’s dating-app generation: Yes I am single but not available/My heart is taken and I know it makes no sense. If you’re uncertain about your love life, so is De Peralta.
Album title-track “Summer to Winter” is very much a sequel to the reckless abandon beach-cruising days of “Cool Down”. The beach is an inevitable motif not just in De Peralta’s song-writing, but in all of Hawaii. No matter the season, it’s always the right time to hit up the beach— especially Winter.
The sheer chorus of harmonies in “Heartstrings” will play and fiddle with your own heartstrings. De Peralta’s tenor is both the perfect suitor and perfectly suited for those intimate strolls along the coast. With all due respect to the studio version, this acoustic rendering off the Na Pali Coast might just be your new favorite thing, ladies. (And, if you’re looking to craft an island-style playlist for that special someone, you’d do no better than to pair “Heartstrings” with The Green’s “All I Need” . You’re welcome.)
“If I Could Be Superman” is a rare piano-backed ballad from Kolohe Kai. Trading in ukuleles for violins, the track is De Peralta at his most stripped-down and nuanced, singing of those long hours devoted to work and providing for your family— a superhero endeavor in and of itself: But baby I’m not superman/I’m just a man who loves you.
The album ends with “Saltwater Sweetness” – a cheerful ode to the days of youth and all-out fun in the sun that, those of us lucky to live in Hawaii can attest, get to experience every single day. The inflection of De Peralta’s voice as he sings of the water harkens back to “This is the Life.” This is a mission complete, De Peralta proclaims, not meekly signaling the end of the past 10-years, but heralding a whole new beginning for Kolohe Kai going into the next decade.
It’s surreal to think Kolohe Kai has been doing this for 10-years. “Ehu Girl” feels like it was just yesterday. Perhaps it’s because it was yesterday, seeing as their past singles continue to get airplay 10-years on, and they’ve only added more to the local radio queue since. Summer to Winter is symbolic of movement, growth, and the passage of time accompanying the changing seasons. Kolohe Kai is far from their rascal days; now stands a matured and accomplished Roman De Peralta, who, no matter the season, will always have a ukulele slung in arm ready to enchant fans old and anew.
Adrian Manuel is a freelance writer. He’s published articles on Thought Catalog, written a flash piece for A Quiet Courage, and submitted feature essays for The Good Men Project and Mamalode. He also runs an entertainment news blog where he reports on film, television, and music. He lives in Maui.