Tennis are a pleasant, comfortable sort of band. A husband and wife duo, progressive enough to have two separate surnames, who formed the band after meeting at college and going on an epic sailing trip - these guys are pretty WASP-y. We can forgive them their privilege to some extent though, as they make some good music. Tennis occupy a space somewhere between the chamber pop of Feist and her ilk, and surfer rock that is clearly still salt-sodden from that cruise up and down the American riviera.
This latest release, Ritual In Repeat, clearly illustrates some new found musical maturity. I think that we can confidently drop the lo-fi genre tag when describing Tennis. The production on this album is polished and distinct, which is a refreshing shift from the occasionally muddy sounds I’ve been used to in the past. Perhaps the best example of the new sound is Never Work For Free. Alaina’s sweet vocals are accompanied by crisp drums and a rhythm section reminiscent of Tegan & Sara. The song is addictive, though it probably couldn’t be described as catchy. The same goes for the whole album, in fact. Much like Ladyhawke’s breakout album, each song is enjoyable as it plays, but then it disappears from your mind as soon as it ends.
Given a little more room in the mix for more nuanced vocal performances and harmonies, Alaina shines more than usual on this album. There’s certainly a retro feel, though that’s nothing new for Tennis. However, in this case the whole ensemble gets on board with the vintage references. For example, I’m Callin’ could have been a heartthrob radio hit decades ago, not only for the songwriting but also for the production that takes hints straight out of the past. From vocal processing to gently shredded guitar licks, it all serves the homage. The effect is that the album turns into a sort of collection of pastiches of times gone by.
Quieter moments fall a little flat, unfortunately. Wounded Heart is yet another uncanny reference to another artist, namely Kate Bush. This Isn’t My Song falls flat in another way, by hearkening back to the more wishy-washy surf rock elements of Tennis’ past, and doing little new with old ideas. It’s a shame that this album tails off so harshly, as the more energetic songs from the start of the album really set a tone that is sadly not sustained. This album should offend nobody, nor should it really set anybody’s soul aflame.