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Tennis - Cape Dory

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Artist: Tennis

Album: Cape Dory

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Jan. 17, 2011

The single remarkable thing about Cape Dory is the steadfastness of its conceit. Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore went on a seven-month boat trip along the eastern seaboard, then made this album to tell the tale. Conceptually, it’s no Nymphomatriarch, but it’s worth admiring just how much it manages to wring out of the experience without wandering off to other pastures. Imagine if Weezer’s entire blue album had been like that one song about surfing.

Does that consistency pay off by itself? Not really. Once you’ve bought into it, though, once you’ve invested in the idea of this album floating and bobbing you along like a pleasure cruise through seldom choppy waters, its standard-issue pseudo-surf rock comes alive as a sort of pop scenery. (By the same token, you would roll your eyes violently if the Fiery Furnaces or Vampire Weekend or the Decemberists wrote a line like “Does the mainsheet remind you of me?” — but these two actually went boating, so it’s a legitimate question!)

Without doing anything revolutionary — and it doesn’t — Cape Dory comes to mirror the leisurely pace of a breezy day at sea, remembered after the fact: the subtle variations, the comforting predictability, the passages of time by turns boring and serenely sweet. Moore sounds like a siren in “Bimini Bay,” a song whose bridge takes you through a brown-skied swamp with weird flowers hanging from distant vines; the organ in “Pigeons” is an insidious undertow, the structure of “Long Boat Pass” a campy marshland tour that ends up in shimmering open waters. It delivers you safe and dry back to the pier, no queasier for the outing.

Admire it as a snapshot, then, or better yet, a travel diary. In those things, you don’t go looking for inventive framing or challenging composition; you’re concerned first and foremost with the place it depicts, the anecdotes it tells. At its most successful, Cape Dory elicits the same patience: that of a viewer who wasn’t along for the ride, but gets at least something out of looking at the slides.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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