Total Score: 93 / Solid Gold: 100%
For the sake of full disclosure, my readers should know that Tennis absolutely stole my heart in 2010. Their song “Marathon” — included on this release — was my favorite of the year, and their January release Cape Dory was my most anticipated non-Panda-Bear record of 2011. Until this debut LP, Tennis had only released two 7inches with five songs between them — all five of which appear in pretty, glossed-up re-recordings on Cape Dory — and since they all clock in under the three minute mark, a fan can quickly hunger for more. With the speed hype travels these days, this record has been a long time coming for Tennis. In August, they had been the opening act for labelmate and Underwater Peoples royalty Ducktails at the Cake Shop in New York, and watching the overpacked crowd recycle between sets, it was clear Tennis had attracted a comparable number of fans, and certainly converted a few more. Flash to December, and they’re headlining a gig at the Mercury Lounge in New York City, where the duo had to apologize to an enthusiastic crowd for not having enough songs, leaving the stage and an audience wanting more.
Trouble is, Tennis played every song that appears on Cape Dory at the show, plus a Brenda Lee cover (read: cool). But while it may leave an audience at a nightclub hot and wanting, if you put this twenty-eight-and-a-half-minute record on in your bedroom or kitchen on any regular afternoon, you’ll find yourself captivated and thoroughly pleased. Cape Dory is a perfect, palatable piece of pop, like a tall slice of cheesecake, wide enough for an oversized strawberry to sit on top. This record, this band, their songs and their style and their schtick – it’s all just phenomenally pleasant. It’s cheesecake. A thick and heavy base of 60s pop, reverb and bouncy melodies, sitting on a sturdy, graham-cracker crust foundation of distorted, jangly guitar rock. Rich, flavorful, textured and playful, yet consistent and reliable – you can’t believe the next bite can be as good as your last, but it always is. But I digress — I never should have started with the Cake Shop, never blog hungry, kids.
For those unfamiliar, Tennis are husband-and-wife duo Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, a couple who decided to leave their home in Denver, embark on an eight-month sailing journey down the Atlantic coast — and upon returning to their landlocked home state, decided they should form an indie rock band to tell the stories of their adventures. This is the first thing you’ll hear about the Colorado natives in every review or newsbit you may come across, and it may seem like secondary information to the actual musical content, but in this particular case the two are inseparable. Because this isn’t just another act out of Brooklyn trying to cash in on the beach-rock swell before the hype dissipates. This isn’t just another couple of kids who really dig their parents’ old pop records and want to emulate Brian or Diana. Tennis are legitimately inspired by the sea. Their songs tell tales of adventures that actually happened. “Marathon”, for example, tells us of the band getting stranded in a very small cove called Coconut Grove, where the couple “didn’t realize that [they] had arrived at high tide, high tide, barely made it out alive”.
And I suppose it’s also a similar comfort to know that the love songs on the record are written from genuine affection as well, the love between a husband and wife. On tracks like “Pigeon” and “Seafarer”, a song which vocalist Moore dedicated to her husband (“…Um, him.”) with a shy giggle at the Cake Shop, a personal, almost secret warmth emerges, an intimacy is shared. This record draws you in, and in many ways Cape Dory feels tidal, from the slow, sloshing beats that carry you along a meandering melody, to the cymbals crashing like waves, the way the album’s momentum rises and falls, the way it never stops. Their isn’t a single dud on Cape Dory, and although there’s a great deal of sonic continuity between tracks, in terms of guitar tone and general mood, each song is able to set itself apart by virtue of its character and melody. Rather than one track overshadowing another, the ten songs on Tennis’s debut compliment each other perfectly and precisely, taking a little less than half an hour of their listener’s time to transport them to a faraway land, a beautiful and romantic place created from memory and transposed into a pop delicacy. Although the melodies are deceptively simple, Moore has the dexterity and control of an R&B singer, and over distorted guitars, the combination is a perfect blend of ’60s nostalgia, occupying the space between girl-groups and garage rockers.
Simultaneously, their sound is something completely their own, born from their own stories, inspired by each other. From start to finish, Cape Dory is all warmth and charm, all because Tennis were unashamed to follow the cardinal rule, write what you know, and the result is extraordinarily refreshing. A personal, reflective, stand-alone record from a fresh duo of songwriters, able to ascend in the indie hype circuit due to water being really “in” right now, and create the record they always wanted to, in clean and beautiful productions. And whether their success be serendipitous or not, indie should feel lucky to have them – these two are exceptional talents, true rough gems pulled from a mostly inactive music scene. After spending so much time in December deliberating a year of music, I can’t help but think of how high Tennis have set the bar for 2011. Records like these only come around every so often – forget the hype, and give Cape Dory a listen for your own sake.
This record is All Killer, No Filler.
Top Killer – “Marathon”, “Bimini Bay”, “Pigeon”, “Waterbirds”