Tennis – Cape Dory

written by: January 24, 2011
Tennis - Cape Dory album cover Release Date: January 18, 2010

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★★★★½

Critics normally can’t help but pity a band that jumps on the bandwagon at the last second. Late additions to a movement are usually ignored, and such was the plight of many bands coming into the surf-rock uprising.

Bands like Beach House, Best Coast and Wavves capitalized on beach influences, each seeming to take a different spin on sun-soaked Gidget tunes. Beach House took on the ambient side of things with Teen Dream, exploring the most sparkling of dream pop. Best Coast and Wavves took a cheekier approach, with Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino becoming the sweetheart of the underground and Wavves making a stellar comeback from a career-shattering on-stage breakdown at Spain’s Primavera Sound Festival in 2009.

The 1950s genre is a successful and seemingly exhausted revival. And just as the outpour of nostalgic beach jams began to slow, the surfing arsenal made room for another addition.

While most newly married couples spend their time worrying about finances, Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore made a bold move by taking their sailboat on an eight month trip up the Atlantic coast. Both classically trained musicians, the duo turned to music to preserve memories of their trip and essentially stumbled into becoming a band.

The chronicles of their adventures eventually became their sweet, ’50s girl-group inspired debut album Cape Dory. Shifting between light and lovely to intimate and listless, Cape Dory is the perfect soundtrack to their quasi-honeymoon, capturing the loneliness of the sea and the excitement of new love and sights.

Moore’s delicate soprano is never overshadowed by a rather simple backing or largely simple guitar work, with minimal percussion elements, from Riley. This allows Moore to stay purposefully understated, but still have a presence among swirling beach sounds. Riley is a champion of signature jangly sand and surf guitar sound and is accompanied by little else besides a quietly weeping Wurlitzer organ.

The set up itself adds to Tennis’ intimacy, as the duo make no attempts to be a bigger sound than they really are like other big-band duo’s such as the Black Keys and Dodos. They have a simplistic and unflustered sound that is more inspired and unpolished.

“Marathon” is the first-time-through favorite with its soaring choruses of “ooh”s and a simple functioning bassline hammered out on the organ repeatedly through the song. It is the lighthearted and catchy songs that become the most memorable tracks from Cape Dory.

“South Carolina,” “Long Boat Pass” and “Baltimore” take on the same kind of bounciness and are largely responsible for the immediate accessibility of the album. A different kind of draw lies in the slower, aching gems like “Bimini Bay” and the self-reflective “Waterbirds.” Here, Riley cuts loose and waxes poetic with his guitar.

Tennis has been quoted saying that its only inspiration comes from life at sea. One can only hope that they return soon. Cape Dory was minted unexpectedly by newly christened artists and maybe its sporadic nature makes it a once-in-a-lifetime piece of work. Let’s just say that there are plenty of fingers crossed that life on the road for Tennis’ upcoming tour will be as enchanting as seafaring.

Cape Dory Tracklisting

  1. Take Me Somewhere
  2. Long Boat Pass
  3. Cape Dory
  4. Marathon
  5. Bimini Bay
  6. South Carolina
  7. Pigeon
  8. Seafarer
  9. Baltimore
  10. Waterbirds