Saturday, January 22, 2011
Review: Tennis *Cape Dory*
[Originally written for Pretty Much Amazing.]
Cape Dory arrives amidst the most brilliant bit of self-marketing by a new band since a pair of “siblings” named Jack and Meg White emerged from Detroit wearing red, white, and black. The story behind the band’s genesis, which you probably already know (Tennis is your new favorite band, right?), is so novel that its veracity is beside the point. It goes something like this: Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, a now-married couple from Denver, scrounged for six years, bought a sailboat (the titular Cape Dory), and escaped their landlocked lives for adventure on the Atlantic. Early into the couple’s trip along the Eastern Seaboard, they discovered they had both played music in the past and had a passion to do it again. One night in a Florida Keys bar, while a Shirelles song played overhead, they decided to give songwriting a shot. After their trip was cut short (and after they were wedded on the deck of the Cape Dory), Riley and Moore returned to their old lives and wrote songs about their seven-month journey. Those songs became the musical travelogue known as Cape Dory. Tennis was born.
The story, which has gained the band instant indie interest, threatens to overshadow the music itself. The Myth of Tennis would be nothing more than cheap fodder for music journalists if Cape Dory weren’t so stunning. This is music that shimmers, sparkles, and swoons. Cape Dory is packed from stern to bow with lovely melodies, often delivered in the form of “oooohs,” “aaaaaaahs,” and “sha-na-nas.” Thin verses, driven by simple guitar hooks, give way to woozy, exuberant choruses. Toward the end of “Long Boat Pass,” arguably the album’s finest track, Moore sings with such joy and longing at once that I catch my breath every time I hear it. No origin story, however charming, can touch a moment like that.
Some early write-ups of the band have compared Tennis to Surfer Blood and Best Coast. Notwithstanding a mutual interest in beach imagery, Cape Dory’s slinky economy more closely recalls an album like Is This It than the reverb-heavy dullness of Crazy for You, or the enthusiastic, multi-tracked wackiness of Astro Coast. Riley and Moore are obviously inspired by the girl group sound, but their music is more of an extension of Blondie’s forays into the genre than, say, a slavish rehash of the Shangri-Las.
Though every song on the album references some part of the couple’s journey, either specifically (“South Carolina,” “Bimini Bay,” “Marathon,” and “Baltimore”) or indirectly (“Seafarer,” Waterbirds,” and “Take Me Somewhere”), these references are merely a means to an end. Cape Dory isn’t a maritime concept record, but an album of love songs as earnest and pure and innocent in sentiment as anything in Celine Dion’s oeuvre, songs that exist in the same universe a saucer-eyed Ronnie Spector sang about in “Be My Baby.” Cape Dory’s ten songs are devoid of any hint of edge or irony. We’re talking devotion, served straight up and often in the second person. Needless to say, many will find all of this a little too precious, saccharine even.
To be sure, Cape Dory is not a perfect record. It’s somewhat slight, not just in length, but in sophistication. A few songs anonymously blend into the next. The production can be muddy at times. But if Cape Dory doesn’t live up to the overblown hype that has built up around Tennis in the last six months, the problem isn’t Tennis, or Cape Dory, but the expectations surrounding both. Taken for what it is – a terrific collection of breezy pop and slow dance doo-wop – Cape Dory is undoubtedly a success.