College sweethearts Alaina Moore (lead vocals) and Patrick Riley (guitarist) embarked on a seven-month seafaring expedition down the Eastern Seaboard that later inspired the creation of their Denver-based indie pop outfit. The then-unwedded couple signed to Fat Possum Records as Tennis, a name inspired by an inside joke. The band released their debut Cape Dory in January 2011, chronicling their oceanic experience for the first time with singles like “Long Boat Pass” and “Seafarer.” Tennis followed up with an extensive nationwide tour that led to the addition of band drummer James Barone. Together, the new trio recorded their sophomore Young & Old, produced by The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and released in February 2012. Since then, Tennis toured overseas in Europe and, again, in North America, stopping by the South by Southwest festival along the way.
Most couple bands come with a built-in narrative. It's an easy talking point, sure, but also one sure to lead to too much critical analysis—is the song that lyrics about a breakup or relationship problems autobiographical or purely a work of fiction? Why is she glaring at him like that? Fortunately for Denver, Co.'s indie pop throwback Tennis, the fact that singer/organist Alaina Moore and guitarist Patrick Riley are married sweethearts might be the least interesting thing about them. Tennis plays deceptively-simple, ridiculously ear worm-y pop music, the kind of songs that get stuck in your head for days and fit seamlessly on any mixtape between The Pastels and your favorite Motown single. If you can believe it, Moore and Riley started the project when they fled their hometown and spent eight months sailing the North Atlantic coast, eventually writing a set of songs that became their buzzed-about debut Cape Dory in early 2011. Cape Dory was imbued with a sense of nostalgia, from the cover (Moore lounging seductively in a one piece straight out of 1985) to songs like "Take Me Somewhere" and the bouncy, doo-wop informed "Marathon," which sounds like it could be a Brill Building classic covered by the Vivian Girls. Following up such a striking debut is never easy, but Tennis avoid any sign of a slump on Young & Old, moving further away from the shore and tightening up its sound without sacrificing the lo-fi charms that made the duo (which is now a trio, with the addition of drummer James Barone) so endearing. This go round things are much more land-locked: “Took a train to/ Took a train to get to you,” Moore sings on opener “It All Feels the Same.” There’s still plenty of surf guitar licks (“Robin”) and buzzing, uptempo raves (“Traveling”) but the record feels more relaxed, more confident. Produced by The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney, Young & Old hits harder than Cape Dory, with cleaner production, extra percussion and more focus on Moore’s gorgeous voice. “Origins” is a bopping, toe-tapping gem, a showcase for Moore’s gift with melody and the best song the pair has written to date. And though most of Young & Old functions as great party music, it also has a pair of excellent ballads at the end, finishing with “Never to Part” and one of Riley’s most delectable guitar lines. No need for a tidy narrative here; just a charming band you want to listen to over and over again, even if you don’t know the backstory.