The winsome pop of Tennis has an equally winsome origin story. The married partnership of Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore were both sufficiently engrossed in one another to spend the better half of a year on a rosy, east-coast sailing trip – they returned to write a breezy indie-pop record primarily about romantic nautical adventures.
Thus, Cape Dory is not the sort of album you’ll come across with any regularity, but that doesn’t necessarily speak of its uniqueness; it dedicates its aesthetic so squarely to an off-beat theme that the resulting music comes off strangely affable in its sincerity and defendable in its intention. But the wide-eyed earnestness is the only thing saving Tennis from their less-than-stellar songwriting.
It’s interesting that Cape Dory is (finally) reaching UK shores right after Cults‘ first full-length foray – both embrace the immediate, yellowed-with-age charm of ‘50s and ‘60s teen-pop, but they split in their scales. Cults are louder, crisper, and more swollen with hooks, while Tennis is sunkissed, lethargic, and unfortunately, more of a mush. Their dedication to ultra-simplistic songwriting occasionally gets the best of them; a lot of these tunes feel like they deserve an extra couple mechanics to fully embellish their competent skeletons. Their best song, Marathon, is also the most complex; a sped-up take on shoobie-doobie A.M. pop trades spaces with a goldenrod guitar beam; united in the final minute in radiant harmony, it’s certainly not the most shocking of turns, but its burrowing melody stays deep in the memory long after you grow tired of Tennis’ pastiche.
And Tennis is mostly pastiche. Songs like Seafarer, Pigeon and Long Boat Pass float along like minor impressions, Moore’s voice always coated in a faded blur. She sings about love, she sings about fun, she sings about places, she sings about sailing along, carelessly juvenile, with a person you’re hopelessly in requited adoration with – but sometimes she ditches what loose concept Cape Dory has and boils the songs down to their bare pop essentials; lots of “sha-la-la’s” and “ooh-ooh’s”. This is about as slight of an album as you can get, stuck in a rudderless (see what I did there?) realm of light pastels and occasional melodic engagement. Even at 28 minutes it outstays its welcome.
Still, it’s easy to see why some might end up captivated by the Tennis endeavor. The record they’ve offered is so overwhelmed with undiluted love, given the right mindset and the right significant other; these songs might make a lot of sense. For the bulk of our clear-mindedness, the nostalgia, the simplification, and the purity can grate, and at worst, annoy. Cape Dory just doesn’t quite transcend its cutesiness – it’s a crime of idealism, not matter how well-intentioned.