Tennis’ debut record¸ Cape Dory, was sweet and slight, as whimsical as you would expect a paean to an extended boat journey to be, its sometimes journal-like descriptions of life on the boat cast in ’60s girl-group-inspired indie pop, usually charming, sometimes to nauseating effect, sometimes so wispy as to be forgotten upon conclusion. As a record by a couple, married in this case, it seems like a registration of simultaneous adventure and conjugal closeness, its personal nature makes it something to be looked at from outside, observed rather than entered by a projection of oneself, while its sound calls for just that projection, a lovelorn teenage self leaning toward a tune of heartbreak only to fall overboard and be rolled to an island shore by mellifluous breakers.
The case is somewhat otherwise on the follow-up, Young and Old, the somewhat flimsy songs with a flair of another’s personality illuminating then giving way to sentiments that transfer more easily, to their detriment, over to the imagination of the listener. As is clear from the beginning this time the sound is denser and bigger, and occasionally it tries to override its sweetness with bursts of rocking, as on opener, “It All Feels the Same,” a song whose delightfulness – trains to missing lovers – gets transmuted into an angst-riddled peak of blazing fuzz guitar that put me off in the same way it puts me off when Best Coast indulges their Southern California pop-punk youth too much. Alaina Moore, who handles the vocals for Tennis, attains more refined territory than Bethany Cosentino though, and more expressive than she sounded on the first record.
This becomes clear on the record’s peak, the stunning little dose of joy that is “Origins,” the fuzzy rhythm guitar this time used perfectly to heighten the tune’s bitter delights. From there on, the record tends to slip by me, though I tend to be in a generally jolly state of inattentiveness, coming to here and there to note that the chorus on “Petition” is very melodramatic and somewhat R&B-inspired, and that I don’t really dig it, while “Robin” sounds like a pretty great song that the Cardigans never quite got around to recording. Overall, for all of the emotion that Moore seems to be aiming for with her voice, the whole experience, choice of words, sounds, structures, feels kind of generic to me. The palette and the feelings it generates are overly familiar, agreeable enough in texture and tunefulness but not particularly engaging, even if not wholly unsatisfying as it passes by.
Stream: Tennis – “Origins”