Tenniscoats - "Higa noboru (The Sun Rises)" (Papa's Ear)
When Two Sunsets came out in 2009, it made perfect sense. That album, a collaboration with Scottish indie-pop legends The Pastels, seemed to document a shared moment of two groups serendipitously arriving at the same place at the same time. The Pastels had been a long time coming to this filmy gauze of an album, slowing down by degrees over a 25-year career where the tempo of the music gradually began to correspond directly with their rate of output. That album’s unhurried, painterly sense of development reflected their recent move towards soundtrack work with "The Last Wilderness," as well as a general lack of interest in repeating themselves, leaving the disaffected nervous energy of their early work to the reams of young acolytes more than happy to pick up the slack.
Then again, it’s not as if Tenniscoats were about to become Guitar Wolf anytime soon. The Japanese duo have always hewed closer to the vaporous psych-pop of countrymen Nagisa Ni Te and Maher Shalal Hash Baz, creating something that still evades a direct counterpart within this school of glazed nature-pop revivalism. The duo inhabit a world of their own, plying a sound more sculpted, less ramshackle, and (slightly) more in debt to traditional pop forms. Like The Pastels, they’ve begun to peel off some of the more urgent tones that informed their formative years in search of a more meditative, but no less beautiful place in the sun. Their last proper album, Tan-Tan Therapy, saw them recording with Swedish pop-ambient minimalists Tape, who provided the perfect understated pulse to Tenniscoats’ wispy melodies.
Papa’s Ear again has the duo repairing to Stockholm to enlist the elegantly restrained studio draughtsmanship of Tape. The results bear an unexpected, but not unbecoming turn-of-the-century Chicago vibe. As a naive/unintentional stylistic reference, it falls somewhere between novel charm and inspired vision. The ghosts of Drag City and Thrill Jockey 1999 release-schedules haunt the proceedings here like an over-polite ghost, mumbling apologies for getting in your way as you go about your chores. Anyone nostalgic for The High Llamas, Sam Prekop’s solo albums, or Jim O’Rourke c. Eureka, will be over-the-moon with Tenniscoat’s passing tribute to the mild old days.
It should be noted, however, the one significant improvement they make over their forerunners in this department: NO SHOWTUNES. Much as I dug the whole Chicago-smoothie movement, the schmaltzy references to stage (musicals) pomp and MOR/easy-listening always repelled me. The Japanese, not compelled to claim these as birthright, tidily side-step the whole thing, replacing these moves with a naive, but dignified cool. Tenniscoats are an "it’s the journey, not the destination" kind of band, crafting songs in the same way one would approach gardening — the results may not immediately be tangible, but patience is awarded in dividends.