Tenniscoats Tan-Tan Therapy

[Häpna; 2008]

Styles: electro-acoustic/orchestral/ambient pop
Others: Tape, Miho Hatori, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Deerhoof

Saya and Takashi Ueno of Tenniscoats have done some very special work on their seventh release. The husband-and-wife duo teamed up with laptop-folk pioneers Tape to record an album constricted by the tightest sinews of orchestral and electronic pop, but also, miraculously, an album that seems perpetually on the edge of evaporating. On Tan-Tan Therapy, Tenniscoats facilitate a sound fresh and fragile enough to make Sigur Rós’ explorations look like cock-rock.

First impressions of this album yield an immediate and visceral sense of carefully constructed contour. Forty minutes is just the right amount of time for the Uenos and Tape to interchange bouncy gems like “Umbarepa!” between cuts with a lot more legroom. Compositions like “Marui Hito (Everyone)” remain diatonic and without much room for dissonance -- thankfully, there's enough room to breathe.

And, concerning breathing, Tan-Tan Therapy is true to its name. The record, much in the vein of the band’s past work, feels like a beach-side meditation. The didactic breathing and vocal exercises that sneak their way into the eight tracks are calming. Saya sings with unparalleled precision -- no syllable is out of place or out or time. It doesn’t hurt that nearly all the songs are sung in Japanese, an enigmatic language to my ears. Nonetheless, the vocal inflections are primal to the point of catharsis.

The arrangements, led by the vocals, are marvelous examples of Tape’s masterful orchestrations. In regard to this transcontinental collaboration, Saya explained in a recent interview with Alchemy Radio, “When we did a tour in Sweden we toured with a Häpna [label] band called Tape… they invited us later to play. [As far as the] language barrier goes, it is difficult to make sure little details don’t get lost, but we felt we communicated through music.”

While “communication through music” sounds cloying, the result is never overly sentimental. Even when the composition isn’t quite on par, as on “One Swam Swim,” the musical schema fits accordingly. And if there’s one thing that comes across through the textures and foreign syllables, it’s that Tenniscoats have transcended their fanatical Japanese fanbase and reached an eager Western market.

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