Tenniscoats

Papa's Ear

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

Japanese avant pop band Tenniscoats leaned toward the communal more and more as their career soldiered on. Since its formation in the early 2000s, the core duo has collaborated in recording and live performance with artists as dissimilar as Scottish indie pop stalwarts the Pastels and ragged psych purveyors Acid Mothers Temple. Their list of collaborations and involvement in various side bands have continued to grow between official stand-alone Tenniscoats albums, and Papa's Ear finds them smoothing all the influences of their widely ranging co-conspirators into a lush album of micro-arranged chamber pop. Working again with Swedish sound sculptors Tape (with whom the band collaborated on 2008's Tan-Tan Therapy), Tenniscoats build a meticulous world of sound that comes on childlike but has a hidden core of darkness. Lengthy second track "Hikoki" (Airplane) slowly builds from somber interplay between soft guitar and vocals into a full repetition of cloistered horns and flutes before falling back to wintery acoustic guitar picking. "Kuki No Soko" (The Bottom of the Air) tends toward more playful chamber pop while bringing to mind the loungiest Sunday morning sect of '60s French ye-ye girls like Françoise Hardy and Claudine Longet. "Papaya" also visits the mode of the '60s pop star with bouncy singsong verses and "ba-ba-ba" backing vocals floating lazily on top of a cheerfully dense arrangement. The whole album recalls the moment in the late '90s when indie rockers like Jim O'Rourke, Plush, and the High Llamas obsessively reworked the pastoral orchestral pop of Van Dyke Parks and the Beach Boys into updated forms. Papa's Ear blends this not too distant nostalgia of indie chamber pop with the moody crosscurrents of sonic architects like Maher Shalal Hash Baz (with whom they sometimes perform) or the shadowy uneasiness of the Microphones. Album centerpiece "New Seasons Dead" sums up the careful duality of the Tenniscoats that runs throughout the album. Incredibly subtle guitar figures and gentle harmony vocals between Saya and Ueno melt into Pet Sounds-esque fragmented percussion with detached organ sounds and processed vocals deep in the mix. The song's build is lovely and inspiring while maintaining a foreboding uncertainty at the same time. The melancholic trumpet lines that push "Sabaku" (Desert) along from a distance capture this same mixed message. The atmosphere of Papa's Ear becomes almost brittle from this constant, silent pull of bipolar emotions, but the tension is what makes the album. Whether you're hearing the sadly galloping orchestral arrangements or the inner struggle of unknown feelings, you get the sense that both would fall flat without the other.

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