If Tennis’ debut album, Cape Dory, was a narrative of a specific time and sensation, the Denver group’s follow-up, Young and Old, is its antithesis. The new disc, recorded in Nashville with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, embraces a grander landscape of ideas and feelings, revealing a riskier, looser version of the band.
Cape Dory, released in January of 2011, chronicled a sailing voyage embarked upon by band members and married couple Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, who met while in college in Denver, and was never intended to be shared. Young and Old, in some ways a reaction to its predecessor, represents the first time Riley and Moore have penned tracks that are meant for those outside themselves. “We wrote Cape Dory almost by accident and after playing those 10 songs over and over for ten months we knew exactly what we wanted to be playing onstage each night,” Moore says. “We were compelled right away to write this new record and it came very quickly. This is the first time we wrote songs for the sake of sharing them and performing them for other people.”
Many of the tracks that appear on Young and Old were written while the band, which also includes drummer James Barone, toured on their debut. Parts were imagined during soundchecks in venues across the country and great thought was put into how the new numbers would translate onstage. Riley and Moore solidified the tracks in May and, along with Barone, spent nine days recording with Carney in August at Haptown Studio—the first time any of the band members had worked with an actual producer.
“We felt like we were doing one thing well and we wanted to expand sonically,” Moore says. “We wanted someone with a dirty, bluesy rock background, someone who was the opposite of our sound to help lend an edge to our music. We felt like Patrick would able to handle our songs well and he did.” Riley adds, “Patrick really channeled our ideas in the best way possible.”
The resulting album retains Tennis’ sparkling indie pop aesthetic, but expands the sonic and thematic elements to include a greater range of styles and ideas. Although Young and Old isn’t a concept album in the way Cape Dory was, this record, which takes its title from a William Butler Yeats poem called “A Woman Young and Old,” finds cohesion even as it expands what the group has previously done. “I didn’t want each song to be in complete
isolation from the next,” Moore says. “I wanted them to belong together. I felt like I’d done a lot of reflection personally while spending months on the road contemplating the transition I had made over the past year. I feel like each song is a vignette, a glimpse into a personal moment of mine spanning from childhood to womanhood.”
“My Better Self,” a song that inspired Moore to pen the other lyrics for the album, is dulcet and introspective, a hushed pop number that showcases the more intimate side of the band while “Petition,” a bluesy, exuberant tune, offers an opposing, kickier sensibility. “It All Feels the Same,” the disc’s delicately propulsive opener, marries the band’s past with their current freer playing philosophy. “It’s maybe one of the oldest songs we have musically, but it took a totally different turn in the studio,” Riley notes. “It was a nice taste of what’s to come. The idea of writing something so long ago that takes a shape you’d never thought of.”
In the end, Young and Old doesn’t so much tell a story as it does chronicle an evolution. It reveals a growing sense of liberation, of musicians coming into their own together. Its melodies are enchanting yet it’s all infused with an edgier tone than Tennis’ debut, a logical next step in the band’s career. “We aim to always be moving forward,” Riley says. “We’re always reaching toward the next song. It may feel distant but the more we work at it the closer it gets. That goal is always to reach it.”
Pure Bathing Culture
It's a rare and beautiful thing when a band emerges fully formed, but it makes perfect sense in the case of guitarist Daniel Hindman and keyboardist Sarah Versprille's Pure Bathing Culture. Having backed folk rock revisionist Andy Cabic in Vetiver, the New Yorkers partnered up and moved West in 2011, settling in Portland, Oregon. Building off their past experiences as musical collaborators, in a short time the duo
have created a sound that is undeniably their own: soaring synths, chiming keyboards, and shimmering electric guitars move in lockstep with bouncing drum machines. Sarah's crystalline voice floats on top of it all with divine purpose. It's a sound that looks back momentarily for inspiration — Talk Talk, Prefab Sprout, Cocteau Twins — but then fixes its gaze firmly on the present.
Further developing the sound of their acclaimed four song, self-titled 2012 EP, at the start of 2013 they set out to record Moon Tides, their first full length album. Again, they chose to work with producer Richard Swift at his National Freedom studio in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon. Throughout 2012 Swift had called on the duo to help him with other studio projects (Versprille sings on Foxygen's latest LP and Hindman adds his sprawling guitar work to Damien Jurado's excellent Marqopa) which only helped to cement the threesome's musical partnership. For Moon Tides they continued where the previous EP left off, bolstered by Swift's belief in the duo's artistic vision and their unique sound, "From very early on, Richard was the person telling us that what we were hearing and wanting to do musically (which at times could feel a little strange or embarrassing to us) was ok and valid and that we should pursue it."
Like the earlier sessions for the EP, they worked quickly in the studio and improvised parts around the basic song structures that they'd carefully composed up in Portland. Dan explains, "Pretty much all tracks (vocals and instruments) are all first or very early takes. Richard is kind of a stickler about this and I actually don't go in with a clean, pristine idea of what I'm going to play on guitar or any other instrument for that matter, so there's actually a lot of improvisation as far as performances in the studio go." The results, like the earlier EP, are astounding: the arrangements feel fresh and imaginative, the melodies are unforgettable and the finished songs, most importantly, feel intensely human and deeply spiritual.
It's this compassion and warmth in Pure Bathing Culture that set them apart. The music is uplifting. It invites self-reflection. It never feels alienating. This, confirms the band, is no accident: "Concepts of spirituality, self actualization, mysticism, new age symbolism and pretty much anything that has to do with humans making sense of why we're all here are all deep, deep muses for us." To that point, even the album title Moon Tides alludes to self-discovery: "We are deeply inspired by the relationship between the moon and the tides. Particularly in the sense that the tides and the ocean are comprised of water and the element water is often associated with human emotion." While these heady themes can be difficult to explore in a pop song, Pure Bathing Culture makes it feel effortless. "Pendulum" is a perfect mid-tempo album opener that pulses and shines. Other standout tracks from the album — "Dream The Dare", "Twins", "Scotty" and "Golden Girl" — are slices of reverb-drenched, soulful, danceable electro-pop, that musically and lyrically tap into an introspective worship of the natural and psychic mysteries that surround us. Pure Bathing Culture's debut album Moon Tides is optimistic modern music for souls who seek to explore the infinite.