Beach House’s Bloom is upon us, so let’s use the occasion as an opportunity to look back at Tennis’ Young & Old, released in February but its charms still in full bloom for any who might search for them. I wouldn’t have thought there was any connection to be made between the two bands, besides in their makeup as male/female duos, but a friend mentioned Beach House as his point of entry into Tennis’ second album, and I’ve since been thinking of Young & Old as a sort of 33% reduction (in time, not quality) of Beach House’s enduring classic Teen Dream (2010). Consider the opening guitar melody of that album’s “Zebra,” so long and improbable, and then let a faster tempo sort out its straying patterns, and you have the opening licks of Young & Old’s “It All Feels The Same,” languor traded for a more immediate excitement on the album’s best song. “Origins” does something similar with Teen Dream’s “Lover Of Mine.” Patrick Riley’s guitar playing, weightless in theory, is made heavy by the tug of the tempo; the two bands’ similarities in composition are masked by nothing more than Tennis’ greater eagerness to get to the end of the song.
The results of that eagerness are uniformly lovely, and Young & Old deserves a positive review, not a defensive one, as celebration, especially three months after its release when it only wants to be loved in the wake of irrevocable snap judgments and with that new Beach House album arrived to take the heat, induce amnesia, and obscure Young & Old’s fine and complementary qualities. But while I don’t know of anyone who’s written unfavorably about Tennis with any formidable authority, I have to at least mention all those commentators who described the band’s 2011 debut Cape Dory as “inoffensive,” as if (to be literal) it was that album’s intention to offend. Has anyone ever called Kathy Young & The Innocents inoffensive? The application in unison of such an inappropriate and blindly dismissive word to the music of Tennis read instead as an argument that the uncomplicatedly romantic has no place in modern pop music, and as a total misjudgment of the band’s attitude and aspiration, as if all along they were trying to rock harder. Cape Dory was tender, wild, and did exactly what it intended to do, the ringing strum of Riley’s guitar riding the same lull of the waves as the sailboat on which its songs were ostensibly composed. Doesn’t most good music offend, by bringing the game to the listener?
Young & Old brings itself, completely: The songs here are more orchestrated, humid and heavy in the superficially innocuous way that makes summer an invisible threat. Alaina Moore’s vocals are more recognizable as such, less breezy, and she sometimes seems to be singing with a whole chorus of herself, as on “Origins.” And she sings startling admissions, after the untroubled Cape Dory: “Paradise is all around but happiness is never found”; “We should be good but we don’t live the way that we should.” So one might say that Young & Old, a little heavier and a little more bitter than Cape Dory, and a lot faster than a Beach House album, offers a sort of corrective for those who cried “inoffensive” last time around. I’d prefer to say that the honeymoon is over. Cape Dory, the album that found newlyweds Moore and Riley sailing the East Coast, captured the happiness of a finite span of days. Young & Old is tasked with collecting all the various joys and disappointments in the time since.
Most albums don’t stay around long, however new they might once have been. Consider this my attempt to love one whose right to endure is already in jeopardy.