Denver husband-and-wife duo Tennis sounds like a band formed specifically to do a really committed version of “Jingle Bell Rock.” They are square, happy, and “rocking” in only the brightest white flavor of vanilla (no flecks of v-bean marring this cone). When New York Times critic Jon Pareles recently shrugged at indie-rock’s “new simplicity,” records like this band’s debut, Cape Dory, are surely what he meant. As banal and on-the-nose as songs by an ostensibly similar artist like Best Coast can be, they at least possess trace amounts anxiety, internal conflict.
The ten nautical songs here, written about Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore’s sailing trip up the North Atlantic coast, sound as pleasant and cozy as you’d expect. They wrote what they knew, I guess. Tennis’ brand of nostalgic indie-pop is just so familiar that every “sha-la-la,” every softly lilting melody, feels like legions of kids have probably written them independent of each other, every few months for the last four or five decades. Riley’s guitar is occasionally lively, though never loud. Moore’s vocals are actively ok—sounding like she’s perpetually got a light breeze at her back and sun warming her cheek. But man, it’s almost exactly like hearing about somebody’s else’s boring vacation. Did you, uh, lie on the beach? Um, did anything funny or interesting happen? Sigh. It can be tough sometimes, deciding where to draw the line between pop purism and lack of imagination. If you start at Cape Dory and walk towards pop purism for a while, you’ll hit it eventually.