Tennis Cape Dory

[Fat Possum; 2011]

Styles: twee, indie pop, stuff white people like
Others: Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura,

Precious. Let me spell it out: P-R-E-C-I-O-U-S. And not in a based-on-the-novel-Push-by-Sapphire way. In fact, Tennis is about as far as you can get on the opposite end of the American pop culture spectrum from a kitchen-sink realist depiction of a troubled youth’s coming of age, even though Cape Dory, the band’s debut, is based more on actual events than most. For this band, which features young marrieds Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, the album is an aural remembrance of an apparently blissful seven-month sailing trip in the North Atlantic.

Such a concept actually fits quite well with the trend of oceanic imagery and surf-rock influence among indie bands in the past year or so, but Tennis are far more twee than tubular — something of a subdued homage to early-60s teen pop with their stripped-down arrangements and Moore’s aloof vocals. The pair created a lot of blog buzz with its self-titled 7-inch this past summer, particularly the peppy B-side “Marathon.” That well-timed release played like a summer snowcone — just enough corn syrup and breezy coolness to offer a quick respite from the heat, and gone before the onset of stomachache.

Cape Dory repeats that 7-inch’s three tracks and adds seven others to round out the narrative, but the cumulative experience tips from light refreshment to wearing out its welcome. The relatively placid soundscape and the Utopian descriptions of life on the high (mellow) seas that Moore paints with her lyrics come together to make, well, a pretty uneventful story. Lines like “It was a summer day/ When you took my cares away,” pervade the album, making young love seem ideal at first, but boring over time. Listening to “Marathon” more closely now, even the rare statement of potential nautical danger (“Barely made it out alive”) comes across with absolutely no weight, playing instead like a harmless ditty about getting asked to the dance by the football (okay, tennis) captain and becoming the homecoming queen.

And that’s what Cape Dory will be for many listeners — a toxic sugar rush full of empty calories. The biographical elements only fuel this: two beautiful and intelligent white kids start a band based on their skillful sailing — an activity that, when done for recreation, is about as tony as hobbies get — and almost instantly become indie darlings for it. Riley and Moore even cop to this in their interviews, claiming that the band name is an attempt at preemptively putting their privilege on the table. Too bad self-awareness doesn’t mitigate the blandness.

Links: Tennis - Fat Possum

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