As soon as “Marathon” appeared on the internet back in June, it became a summer favorite. Slowly but surely, indie blogs discovered and fell in love with the song’s irresistible charm, its adorable keyboard organs, its breezy lyrics and most importantly, its catchiness.
Almost immediately, it reminded me of Girls’ “Lust For Life.” Both songs are short, sweet, and take place down the shore; both songs take tried-and-true chord progressions and make them sound fresh again; and both abandon their structures in their closing minutes—dizzying fade-outs that demand repeat listenings.
Anyone worried that the husband-and-wife duo Tennis wouldn’t be able to translate their sun-soaked sounds into a full-length album need only listen to singer Alaina Moore’s girly, confident voice on the title track: “Take me out baby, I want to go sail tonight.” On their debut album Cape Dory, Tennis unabashedly set up shop on a sandy beach and fulfill the promise of their earliest singles.
There’s been a glut of lo-fi surfer rock over the past couple years, so it’s to the duo’s credit that they’re able to keep fans enthralled with their modest instrumentation (guitar, drums, keyboard) and sweet little ditties. But Cape Dory manages to evoke an atmosphere that places the listener right alongside them on their shiny, small catamaran floating over the ocean waves. And they don’t even need a half hour to do it.
Moore and her husband Patrick Riley successfully convey the love they have for each other—and for their nautical adventures—on songs like “Long Boat Pass,” where Moore’s vocals shine. For his part, Riley’s steady guitar playing anchors the album and provides a lazy, lustful backdrop for his wife’s sunny ruminations.
The lyrics on Cape Dory aren’t especially cerebral. “We’re making good time,” Moore assures us on “Bimini Bay,” a song that possesses an endearingly simple chorus: “Sail me away to Bimini Bay/Oh—.” Moore repeats that hook several times, and the fact that she’s able to imbue her “ohs” and her “whoa-ohs” with such love and meaning speaks to her unassuming vocal versatility.
Even her most joyous lyrics are touched by a dreamlike wistfulness.
On the LP version of “Marathon,” Moore’s added background cooing to a part of the song where she she recalls, “We didn’t realize that we had arrived at high tide, high tide, barely made it out alive.” The dangerous squalls that threaten to capsize their vessel should be a moment of tension, but Moore turns it into a tender recollection.
“Pigeon,” meanwhile, finds the duo drawing inspiration from the merrily melancholic dream pop of Beach House. “I will be there, I promise to take good care of you,” Moore sings, the last word met by Riley’s chill guitar licks. Most singers would imbue lyrics like “Let the wind blow, we will be safe, I know” with a palpable cheesiness, but like Victoria Legrand, Moore lets her tone speak volumes. She’s loyal and in love, and we don’t even need lyrics to figure that out—she sounds like she’s in love.
And, like Beach House, Tennis doesn’t let their modest instrumentation limit their songwriting or their sound; organs and guitars wash over each track on Cape Dory, but they never sound repetitive or forced. Indeed, on closing track “Waterbirds,” Moore says she’s “still dreaming” of “salty marshes” and “insects chirping underneath the leaves,” conjuring up a lovely nighttime image. But the most beautiful lyrics in the song speak for themselve: “When you kiss me, you really kiss me.”
Now that’s love.