I must have listened to Cape Dory eight times in one or two days. Not because it was totally engrossing, but because it kept ending just as it got going. At ten songs, Cape Dory might be considered a full-length but its slight twenty-eight minutes registers more as a simple snapshot. In a lot of ways, that's exactly what the album is: it's based around the married duo's sailing trip up the East Coast. With titles like "Bimini Bay," "South Carolina" and "Baltimore," Cape Dory is like the audio equivalent of a vacation photo album.
The album is also a snapshot of a band still in its infancy. Tennis has good ingredients—Alaina Moore has a lovely voice, her tone (if not her pipes) approximating that of Neko Case or Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino; production-wise the music of Cape Dory resembles the hollow, roomy sound of the Walkmen (where the Walkmen's sound recalls wintry desolation, Tennis evoke an early spring thaw). Ultimately where Tennis fall short is the songs themselves. The whole of Cape Dory is pleasant but the melodies aren't always there, the heart not quite beating.
With each listen Cape Dory gets a little better, especially in the album's second half, where the string of "South Carolina," "Pigeon," and "Seafarer" lift things to another, more memorable level. Here the vocal melodies are just a little more ambitious and interesting, the ache in Moore's voice more apparent. Elsewhere the simplicities of the songwriting, as on the yawn-worthy verses of "Baltimore" or the boring phrase-plus-ooohing chorus of "Take Me Somewhere," drag Tennis down to a plain-Jane level that reminds me of the landslide of sad-girl songwriters who populated the Pacific Northwest in the 90s, all of whom were influenced by pioneering acts like Tiger Trap or Lois.
Whatever my complaints, I still keep starting Cape Dory over as soon it's done—surely a sign of its quality, or its status as a grower. I like playing this record, even if much of it passes me by. Tennis has a possibly great album on their horizon. It's already clear they like traveling; I'd like to hear them again after they've taken their show on the road, hopefully in search of that horizon.
- Tennis: Pigeon