Tennis is a band comically yet perfectly set up for adulations from critics. The wife-husband duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley originally found its niche by combining ‘70s-type adult contemporary hooks with indie guitar-rock based accompaniment, topped off with the reverb-heavy production sound that defined so much of the early 2010s alternative work. But the duo’s fourth album, Yours Conditionally, finds it building off its third effort, Ritual In Repeat, in moving away from a low-fi, low-energy sound into a fuller and more eclectic output.
Yours Conditionally highlights the band’s greatest gift, Moore’s incredible Olivia Newton-John-like voice, to a greater extent than ever before. Moore sounds more confident on tracks such as “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” than ever before, even playing with a breathless, seductive inflection that is usually more indicative of Top 40 music than Pitchfork darlings. “Baby Don’t Believe” starts off sounding like a smooth R&B track before transitioning into something beyond simple genre classification. The individual peak tracks of the album may not stand quite with the best of Ritual in Repeat, but the funky, STRFKR-like “My Emotions are Blinding” and stripped down, achingly melancholic “Modern Woman” come close enough.
Bands such as Real Estate, Best Coast, the Beach Fossils and the Drums pushed the circa 2010 alternative scene far into the dreamy, ethereal Coachella sound that was so popular for a time. Tennis’ first album, Cape Dory, came out in 2011 and slotted the band solidly into the middle of that movement. And while effective at getting their names out there, Cape Dory and their sophomore work Young & Old did little to nothing to distinguish them from the pack, and today doesn’t offer much worth going back for, stuck in the characteristic lack of musical-dynamism that was so bizarrely popular at the time.
It was on Ritual in Repeat that the band seemingly realized that its most memorable output comes when it steps away from a indie-rock-guitar driven sound and finds other more energetic places to center its work. “Marathon,” its first hit, is secretly buoyed and kept going by its excellent bass and percussion work rather than its, admittedly memorable, guitar hooks. On songs such as “Timothy” and “Bad Girls,” the band fully shed the distant, too-cool-for-school approach and found a combination of disco, new wave and punk energy that finally made it unique and unforgettable, and it’s reassuring to see it continue to find different sound and genres to draw from.
The nauseatingly sweet story that came along with the release of Cape Dory was that Moore and Riley wrote the album based off their experiences sailing the world together on a small vessel they named “Swift Ranger.” When it was announced that the duo would be taking another trip through the seas for inspiration, it raised the frightening possibility of them returning to its pleasant but unspectacular initial efforts. But fans can rest easy; even if the album isn’t exactly a step in a new direction, it is certainly a full-throated endorsement of their previous shift.
Overall, Yours Conditionally is more inconsistent than Tennis’ other works. “Fields of Blue” and “Matrimony” are uncharacteristic electronic-heavy duds, and “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” doesn’t reach the second gear that most of their best songs do. The patchy first half, however, can be forgiven because of the second half in which the pair finds its footing and begins to absolutely soar. And frankly, no chance to hear Moore’s voice should be passed up.
Contact Andrew Wild at [email protected].