Aside from feeling like their music lives a layer or two below the surface much of the time, Tennis and Woods seem like they reside in positively different landscapes. Both, however, happened to release something in the last several days Tennis' ("Take Me Somewhere" video and Woods' "Pushing Onlys" single) that placed them in a few conversations. And after a while, the same thing kept coming up in entirely separate instances in regard to the two artists—they have the ability to momentarily make you nostalgic for a past you come to realize you don't even possess.
They both occasionally get lumped in with the array of indie rock that over the last few years has become fixated on the beach and summer. But while their music can logically elicit warm thoughts of summer sun (through very different processes) grouping Woods and Tennis with the lot of them seems more lazy or happenstance than anything else. With both bands, it seems like a larger and separate entity occurs to create that mood as a sort of byproduct. But what exactly this nostalgia-inducing entity is can feel a bit fuzzy.
With Tennis, it seems a bit simpler. In their case, a pretty firm backstory exists that provides the basis for, if not the exact sort of mood they're going for, pretty damn close to it. The story is the husband and wife duo who graduated school and sold their possessions to buy a sailboat and spent the next many months traveling the Eastern Seaboard. It was only upon returning from this seafaring journey that they began to write the songs that would become their album Cape Dory.
This is where things start to get a bit fishy (apologies). The sailing excursion clearly happened in my own lifetime, but their music seems fixated on setting a mood reminiscent of a time far before that. For that matter, so does their album cover, which looks more like an '80s magazine/glamor shot meets ironic '00s thrift store ensemble than anything happening in indie rock today, and caused me to briefly question the earnestness of the whole project. If nothing else, a ridding of one's material possessions to go live on a boat for the better part of a year is certainly a call to simpler times of eras before, whether or not you have a particular era in mind.
As it turns out the duo seem almost entirely free of any irony. It's possible we all just have our ironic bullshit detector gloves on a little too tightly these days. The "Take Me Somewhere" video actually seems to provide a pretty perfect three-minute representation of the entire aura the band is going for, albeit a bit literally. It's a song about ships and sailing in which we literally see the couple navigating the waters in an elegant Ian Perlman-directed clip. While the clip probably won't shift the course of your day, it's a great visual aid that in combo with the song goes quite a ways to put you in the world they've created.
Woods, on the other hand, often seem like even a lone sailboat out on the sea might not be quite desolate enough to house their folk jams. The aesthetic they create has always seemed far less constructed than the world Tennis creates with their music. Possibly due to the nature of their music and the endearing feel that most of it could have come together naturally on a porch with some sort of mason jars involved, it can't help but as if this is just the sound and feel that has come together organically over time.
The band has put out a good album every twelve months for going on six years now, with side projects galore. When an act has such a steady and consistent output as this, the unfortunate consequence sometimes is little new or notable attention simply due to the expectations already in place they would do just that again. But with the release of Sun and Shade's lead single "Pushing Onlys" earlier this month, it deserved to be noted that this band is still killing it. The folk-sprawl is still there, and, while less so than much of their past, it's still rough and raw around the edges in a perfectly charming sense. The overdubs and the guitars and the constant shifting and pitch in Jeremy Earl's voice conjure up a sort of daydream that no other band can claim. It's always exciting to see a band find a sound that is their own like this, and own it so much as time goes on. Where that sound resonates with you personally seems largely dependent on what your past entails. Visions of back porch jams idea come to mind, along with, well, literal woods and trails. But the beauty of the sound is that it could plausibly translate to whatever a daydream of such an outdoor world means to you.
One thing I know for sure. I have never been sailing. My friend has never had a back porch or anything resembling a yard. And yet, in our own ways, we were transported very briefly to something like this, or at least our idea of this. When music can achieve that, something is going right.