tennis – ritual in repeat

the backstory of tennis and their debut album cape dory was portrayed as idyllic, something lifted from a script recently purchased by fox searchlight pictures: guy and girl marry, guy and girl sell all possessions to buy boat, guy and girl live on said boat, guy and girl return to denver to pen charming pop album, charming pop album is well-received, guy and girl become darlings of the blogosphere.  that’s not to say that the attention cape dory garnered was unwarranted in any way.  surf rock-inspired guitar melodies intertwined themselves with alaina moore’s vocals and keyboard progressions with ease, creating brief exercises in an amalgam of 1960s pop offshoots that resonated deeply with the music climate at the time.  but with a project that was ostensibly predicated on one profound, shared life experience, it became difficult not to wonder if tennis would eventually burn out or prove to be a passing fad.

after young & old hit less than a year later in early 2012, it became apparent that tennis wasn’t a fluke; that profound, shared life experience turned out to be a catalyst for an impeccable songwriting partnership as opposed to a one-time stroke of good fortune.  after a long bout of silence, tennis reappeared at the end of last year with small sound, an ep designed as a stop-gap before their much-anticipated, and delayed, third album arrived.

nine months later, we have ritual in repeat.  the album finds tennis again working with the black keys’ patrick carney along with the shins’ richard swift and spoon’s jim eno, both of whom handled production on small sound.  with this trio of producers in tow, moore and patrick riley have continued to distance themselves from the confines of their debut album, instead expanding their palate and honing in on new timbres to create their most mature – and important – effort to date.

a rather sunny disposition has been associated with tennis and their music, but ritual in repeat opens with “night vision,” a comparatively ominous track initially built around nothing more than a syncopated drum beat, moore’s descending vocal melody, and rumbling low-end interjections.  riley’s warm guitar countermelodies eventually foil the darker tones established, but “night vision” feels less like a misdirection and more of a precursor to the bevy of moods present throughout the album.  “bad girls” blurs the line between a self-examination and a cautionary tale of preconceived notions, with moore alternating between statements like “it’s true, i know, i’ll never find / i’ll never have any peace of mind ” and “even bad girls can do good things / even bad girls have holy dreams.”  instead of foiling the lyrical content, riley’s guitar work enhances it this time around, slinking dark arpeggios through appropriate passages and rolling chords at confident, stratospheric moments.

the lead singles plucked from ritual in repeat, “never work for free” and “i’m callin’,” both perfectly highlight the familiarity of tennis’ sound.  the former is uptempo, straight-ahead, and relies fundamentally on the vocal-guitar tandem of moore and riley, the very foundation of the band’s core, while the latter draws on the more recent funk and disco influences that permeated small sound.  tennis also smartly recycled “timothy” from their ep, thus broadening the album’s overall scope with an earnest, beachy song about unrequited love.  but yet, the shortest track on the album accomplishes the most in terms of the band’s maturation of sound.  “wounded heart” clocks in just under two minutes and is completely stripped of any tennis tropes; riley swaps his electric guitar for an acoustic to strum a simple waltz for moore, who sings a tender, threadbare melody about the solace found in confronting heartbreak.  with their signature aesthetic completely missing, tennis still proves that they can write meaningful, durable pop songs.

three albums in, tennis finally graduates to three-dimensional musicality and reaps all of the rewards in the process.  ritual in repeat is nearly flawless from start to finish, although it’s not so much a movement-defining moment as it is a career-defining one.  tennis has surpassed its buzz-band confines, leaving the door wide open for an endless possibility of musical endeavors.


listen to a new song from tennis

tennis is set to return with their long-awaited third album, ritual in repeat, on september 9th.  it’s the indie-pop outfit’s first full-length release since early 2012 and seems to follow in the footsteps of last year’s small sound ep, if the early singles are any indication.  the band dropped a second preview of their new record yesterday in the form of “i’m callin’,” an up-tempo, disco-beat powered number that demands your complete attention.  take a listen to the song below, courtesy of the band’s soundcloud page.

tennis – small sound

at their inception, tennis seemed to be everywhere all at once.  the denver indie-pop trio, centered around husband and wife tandem patrick riley and alaina moore, quickly churned out two excellent full-length albums over the span of about a year.  but then they clammed up.  aside from an excellent cover of television’s “guiding light,” let go around last christmas, the band was holed up somewhere writing new material and largely avoiding contact with the outside world.  the result of this hermitic behavior is small sound, an excellent five-song ep that serves as a precursor to a third album due sometime in the near future.

“mean streets,” the ep’s opening track and lead single, feels like a throwback to something that would have been written in between cape dory and young & oldthe nautical-romance aesthetic reappears, but it’s supplemented by the more conscientious songwriting that permeated tennis’ second album.  the subsequent song, “timothy,” throws the car even further in reverse.  the jangly guitar intro sets up a drum beat and vocal line that may just be the band’s most delightful ever.  it’s completely reminiscent of the innocent love that spawned cape dory, yet the sheer length of the song and its fully-developed bridge suggest that tennis is adding mature nuances to a familiar palate.


maybe that’s why the rest of small sound surprises me so much.  after hinting that they wouldn’t step too far outside their comfort zone with the first two tracks, tennis gets funky on “cured of youth.”  like syncopated horn-line funky.  if the sounds of mid-1960s pop was their calling card before, tennis begins to embrace more attributes of the latter part of that decade throughout small sound.  “dimming light” is a slow-burning, r&b-laced song with an assertive vocal hook on the chorus accompanied by an acoustic piano, while closing number “100 lovers” dials up a bit of funk one more time.

considering i wasn’t expecting anything from tennis until 2014, small sound is a pleasant surprise.  hopefully this foray into uncharted waters isn’t a one-off experiment, because i’d love to hear more of it on their next full-length.  for now, i’ll just sit back and wait for my 10″ of small sound to come in the mail, and then spin it a bunch of times in a row because it’s that good.