If bands have their whole lives to write their first records, they have a shorter window to take advantage of their quirky backstories. Credit then to Tennis—a husband-and-wife duo whose 2011 debut Cape Dorywas accompanied by a tale of yacht-bound globe-trotting—for ditching the nautical conceit on the fine follow-up Young & Old. With a production assist from the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, it’s a grown-up sophomore effort that embraces broader pop sensibilities.
Carney’s crisp oversight lets the band’s hooks shine on tracks such as “Origins” and “Traveling,” with the welcome addition of pianos and vocal overdubs filling out the pair’s formerly limited, garage-centric sound. His best contribution is the low end notably absent from Cape Dory, which helps make the new tracks rounder, roomier affairs. Drummer James Barone, an out-of-wedlock addition, keeps the songs light-handed and breezy, while singer Alaina Moore, owner of a wavering but sincere-feeling instrument, spends the record sounding like Diana Ross borrowing Julian Casablancas’ distortion filter. She’s charming, if not quite supreme.
Moore pouts her melodramatic way through lyrics about holding hands and dream lovers; the ’50s pop of groups like the Drifters and the Shirelles remains the band’s key inspiration, though expanding beyond the first album’s guitar fuzz lets them pay a sweeter, worthier homage. “I’m dreaming, I can still believe in you,” Moore sings on “Dreaming,” and Bobby Darin might actually be proud.