Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Building off last week's stripped-down approach of The Decemberists' The King Is Dead is the even more bare-bones motif of the Denver-based husband-and-wife duo, Tennis, and their full-length debut Cape Dory. After a seven-month long sailing expedition along the East Coast – before which vocalist/keyboardist Alaina Moore and guitarist Patrick Riley had little experience on the open seas – the couple returned to their previous focus of recording and performing jangly indie pop. Inspired by their time buffered by the Atlantic waves, their new work came out crisper and more cohesive than before.

Befitting their nautical influences, the 10-track collection – out today on Fat Possum Records – is crisp and buoyant. A distortion pedal can't be located within a fathom of Riley's clean-sounding Telecaster and Princeton amp, while he also ably covers their rythym section compliment in the studio on an assortment of vintage gear and production techniques. Meanwhile, Moore's vocals are airy and bright, while also crystal-clear and pitch-perfect. She's a enjoyable blend of Deborah Harry and Essex Green's Sasha Bell, and makes the duo's sprightly compositions more credible than a more soul-flavored sound.

For a project that includes a stock of uptempo numbers, the album begins at a more subdued location. "Take Me Somewhere" eases into the effort, with Riley guiding his gentile surf-rock guitars across a blues-based beat through the track's midpoint. By the time the bouncy seaside rhythm finally does kick in, we've heard reference to such sailing terminology as "main sheet" and "strangers' lines, clean and sleek." The transition nicely positions its follow-up, the brisk "Long Boat Pass." Here is the heart of the couple's mission, one that's much in keeping with the slate of lo-fi, oceanside rock outfits such as Best Coast, NMT-profilees Wavves and Beach House that have emerged over the past year. It's punchy via Riley's guitars and drums, but remains sunny through Moore's perky fronting duties – a perfect single vessel to expand the group's reach. And although the title track – referencing the sailboat that hosted their time on the water – stationed in the number three hole corresponds with the opener's hesitancy in finding its pulse, it likewise neatly encapsulates the album's essence in its delightful first verse:

Take me out baby, I want to go sail tonight
I can see the ocean floor in the pale moon light

Ooh, let's explore the sheltered banks til the morning light
And we won't turn back til the shoreline is out of sight

Strangely, the tune that drove so much of the duo's pre-album hype, "Marathon"– itself noting the community located at the mid-point of the Florida Keys – is not among the record's best. It's likable enough, but otherwise unremarkable compared to the preceding offerings. Additionally, one track later, the tangy ballad "Bimini Bay" generally stagnates and packs none of the album's earlier energy. However, that's not to suggest Moore and Riley can't tackle a slower-tempo number, as the more purposeful "Pigeon" reintroduces Moore's previous emotional investment.

Nonetheless, in a handful of more spirited tracks on the flip side, the project returns to its basic premise. "South Carolina" moves about smartly, and although I'd prefer Moore's vocals here without the thin layer of vocal distortion, its still easily the best number here after "Long Boat Pass." Moreover, "Seafarer" rolls out exactly as its title suggests, brisk and carefree and Moore comes closest to Harry's vocal signature, albeit absent the latter's punk grit, while "Baltimore" finds itself closest to the efforts of the hipsters Wavves and Best Coast. At the end, "Waterbirds" is a soothing, if a bit less urgent closing – one perfect for docking-up. And while no individual number runs past "Bimini Bay's" 3:12 and the whole collection barely presents enough material to clear the harbor master's station at a zippy 28 and 1/2 minutes, its no less an enjoyable experience as a result.

Come for: "Long Boat Pass"
Stay for: "South Carolina"
You'll be surprised by: "Pigeon"

P.S. Tennis will be headlining at the Rock N Roll Hotel on Saturday, March 5. Get tickets now, it's a small place.

P.P.S. A second, can't-miss DC show will be going down nights later, when Irish folk-punk legends The Pogues will hit the 9:30 Club, with NMT-profilees Titus Andronicus opening

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