Though the album cover is decidedly ‘80s-inspired, the music on Tennis’s debut album Cape Dory goes even further back, recalling the atmospheric instrumentation of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” and the sha-la-la’s of early ‘60s girl groups.
The songs on this new release are about adventures on the high seas, but the music brings to mind images of teenagers in the 1950s and early ’60s slow dancing in high school gymnasiums—a slice of America’s past, or at least how it’s been popularly portrayed in movies like Grease. There is something overwhelmingly sentimental and nostalgic about their music, with its jangly guitars and reverb. But Cape Dory does not try to replicate the sounds of the past as much as update them for the contemporary indie scene.
Tennis is comprised of a husband and wife duo: Patrick Riley on guitar and keyboards and Alaina Moore on vocals and keyboards. The two spent seven months aboard a sailboat named Swift Ranger (You can read about their travels on their blog, White Satin Gloves). After returning home to Denver, they composed songs about their adventures. The end product is Cape Dory, which takes its name from the manufacturer of their boat.
Only ten songs long and clocking in at less than 29 minutes, this album is chock full of catchy lyrics and nostalgic tunes. Most songs are in the two-minute range with only three tracks just barely breaking the three minute mark, so we’re left with very tightly composed lo-fi pop songs. On the opening track, “Take Me Somewhere,” Moore implores just that, and so the adventure begins. And with her dreamy vocals and the sea imagery, the listener is likely to be transported somewhere else, too, (which is especially welcome on these blustery winter days in Michigan when the temperature dips well below zero).
There’s a detachment in Moore’s vocals throughout, and that combined with the ethereal instrumentation and the blending of girl group sounds with beach rock has warranted comparisons to Best Coast. However, Moore’s vocals are tighter than those of Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino’s, whose vocals have a slow, stoned drag to them. Tennis also has meatier lyrical content than Best Coast, but don’t get me wrong, it’s still pure pop.
The highlights of Cape Dory include the stormy “Marathon” and the upbeat “South Carolina,” both of which had been previously released as singles, and the title track. Mostly the throwback style works in the duo’s favor, but occasionally it feels off, like the harmonized “oohs” of “Take Me Somewhere” which come across as forced and a little show-tuney. I was reminded of the street urchins in a community theater production of Little Shop of Horrors I saw a few years ago.
Tennis, South Carolina
Having grown up in a strict Motown and soul household, I’m a fan of the re-emergence of these musical styles over the past few years in acts like Mayer Hawthorne and Raphael Saadiq, and I’m looking forward to seeing how indie rock groups respond to these influences. So while acts like Best Coast and Tennis are creating light music that isn’t going to change the world, it’s perfect pop— easily digestible and perfect for daydreaming.
Gina Myers is the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009). Her last piece for Frontier Psychiatrist was a book review of Patti Smith’s Just Kids.