The husband and wife creative core of Tennis sailed around for seven months after they graduated college, giving them a wealth of experiences and stories that proved hard to relate properly to their friends yet also perfect music fodder. After all, 20 somethings like your's truly can't really relate to docking in South Carolina or being stuck somewhere on the ocean for awhile due to the changing of the tides. But when set to music, these stories become enchanting, the sense of journey and discovery somehow more easy to relate to your own life. Yet the ease and lightness of Tennis's sound--a sort of easy listening, 70s AM radio, breezy surf rock blend of keyboards, guitar, and drums--could be a whimsical, affected distraction for many listeners. The album cover is terrible, going a few steps too far into irony or kitsch, while the title track is an idyllic daydream that most listeners only wish they had the money and opportunity to experience: sailing around on the Atlantic and Pacific with your husband, constantly experiencing the beauty of nature? Must be nice! Considering that the band are originally from Colorado, their story and music seem even less authentic, as if they went on that sailing trip just so they could have a quirky story to tell and a justification for their adopted musical style, two things that would set them apart from the bunch.
It pleases me, then, to say that none of this really had any bearing whatsoever on the album and my enjoyment of it. My enthusiasm for Cape Dory has cooled a bit since first stumbling upon it, but it is still an excellent, if modest, record of summery pop. Less than a half hour long, the songs rarely stray from the same nautical/traveling subject matter or the sure-to-be-dubbed-by-many-critics-and-fans "sail rock" sound. The tom toms and up-and-down rhythm guitar of 'Bimini Bay' give it a pleasant drift, and you can practically feel the ship rolling in the gentle mid-afternoon waves beneath you. Meanwhile, the sublime 'Pigeon' could easily pass for a mid-60s girl group ballad with a surf rock twist, not unlike if Brian Wilson had formed the Beach Girls instead of Boys. Due partially to its brevity, Cape Dory is the kind of record that you can leave on in your car for a few days, one that goes down with such smooth ease it's hard to take it seriously even though you can't stop listening to it.
As with Vampire Weekend, it's easy to charge Tennis with being privileged white people who co-opted a sound for their own devices. But the proof is always in the music, and playing the authenticity game is a fool's errand with the way the music world operates now. So, then: Vampire Weekend's albums are amazing, and Cape Dory is pretty good. Again, as with Vampire Weekend's albums, I don't know why something so obviously summery and light was released in January, but that's not relevant to its quality. I am left wishing there were a couple more songs, or for more variety, but those issues will be more important for their sophomore album. For now, provided you're into 70s soft-rock mixed with surf rock, this is a good little record, one that instantly wins you over but leaves you feeling a little hungry for something more.