“This one’s called ‘Marathon.’ It’s about the first time we ever sailed at night, and it’s exactly like being in outer space, and it’s really scary. And when I was doing it I was like, the only reason why this is worth it is ‘cause I can tell a really cool story afterwards. So this is the story.”
This was how Tennis, the husband-and-wife duo from Denver, Colo., recently introduced “Marathon,” one of the standout tracks on the band’s first full-length, Cape Dory. Despite their band name (picked ostensibly because Yacht was already taken), Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore have crafted 10 wonderful pop songs that make me feel as if I am sailing around with the Crystals in their prime.
Cape Dory is a concept album that manages to transcend its concept. Every song is about the eight-month sailing trip that Riley and Moore took, but the songs manage to expertly navigate the tricky waters of romantic navel-gazing. (Naval-gazing?) The lyrical themes touch on universal tropes. On “Baltimore,” Moore dashes any hedonistic illusions by wondering, “Can we get a job/ Is that asking a lot?” And despite what you may expect, at no point does the album feel self-indulgent or overtly yuppie. It feels like your favorite couple sharing a slideshow of their recent trip with you, and the threat that you’ll nod off is nil.
Riley’s guitar work subtly evokes surf-rock pastiches while retaining a voice of its own. The riffs are melodic, tropically inspired and suitably restrained when necessary, allowing Moore’s charming vocals to take center stage. The songs are not narratives so much as vignettes, with Moore’s lyrics effortlessly recounting just enough detail amongst the universally romantic sentiments to make each track effortlessly relatable. If you’ve ever been anywhere near the water with a significant other, you’ll find some breezily off-handed line ring true.
The album ebbs and flows with precision. For every rave-up you are treated to languid gems like “Bimini Bay,” which became my favorite after five-plus runs through the album. (As with every great album, the real gems are not the ones you immediately pick out on a cursory run through.) Cape Dory is not the kind of album that heralds the emergence of some great new talent, necessarily. It just does what it set out to do, and it does so perfectly. I hope Riley and Moore keep on telling these stories.