Call it sensitization: On Quilt Noise, the debut album from Chapel Hill's Tennis & the Mennonites, frontman Jerstin Crosby delivers 18 songs almost universally about his world gone wrong. By his own words, Crosby is getting older, and what's around him isn't getting any younger, or necessarily better. His voice--a highly affected mid-range tenor recalling the breathy self-involvement of Conor Oberst and the shifty pop prowess of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Alec Ounsworth--says as much, evincing restlessness and discontent with jerky dips and unstable peaks.
Consider the first four lines of opener "Cousin D": With a meek voice recorded as though through a tin can, Crosby admits his mom's hair is dyed and his dad is balding. That's only an introduction to a parable of a criminal teaching children how to be just like him. Elsewhere, he pokes fun at petulant, attention-whoring party kids at keggers and karaoke bars and chastises Western leaders for talking instead of doing. He chooses, instead, to champion the "beautiful words ... [of] those Eastern dudes."
But Crosby's real misgiving is with his love life, and, over the course of Quilt Noise, he works to reconcile that with growing up: "Time is not on our side/ or else we wouldn't be standing here," he sings on "Delayed," a mathematical pop song built on throbbing bass and a jagged guitar trigger. It's a tag-team battle against time and loneliness, and every time Crosby feels like he's winning--as on the brilliant "Magnets," where he celebrates the line "It's you and me/ and that's the way it's been for a long time"--things fall apart. Three songs later, he's praising handtrucks for expediency: "Breaking up has been quite a workout/ Packing my junk and moving out."
Crosby and a cast of contributors--from Pleasant's Maria Albani to three-fourths of labelmates The Honored Guests--paint these frustrations perfectly: Sometimes, broken instrumental tracks illustrate Crosby's misgivings; ultimately, though, they make it clear he's still trying. Sometimes, in fact, Crosby's songs--like the quippy "Bianca"--are funny, despite ostensible frustrations.
Quilt Noise is 18 tracks, but it clocks in at just over 46 minutes: Some songs barely make it over a minute, and, on occasion, they seem more like stubs than proper entries. The backside is overloaded with those tracks, making the album's end feel more like a collection of journal entries. But maybe that's the point: When things are falling apart around you, sew what you have together and use the quilt for whatever comfort you can find.
Tennis & The Mennonites release Quilt Noise with a show at The Cave on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10 p.m. Future Islands opens. For more, see www.thehonoredguests.com/tennis or www.myspace.com/tennisampthemennonites.