Tennis grapples with grief on a hypnotic ‘Swimmer’

Photo courtesy of Mutually Detrimental

Indie-pop band Tennis’s fifth album “Swimmer” was released on Feb. 14. The album follows a three year hiatus after the release of their last album “We Can Die Happy.” The past three years have been troublesome for the band, wrought with illness and family passings. “Swimmer” allowed the duo to navigate the dangerous waters of grief and reflect on a decade of marriage.

Tennis is made up of husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. The two began making music in 2011 with their debut album “Cape Dory,” and since then have released five albums. The band has carved out a space for themselves in the indie scene, consistently delivering on an 80s inspired, melancholic sound. 

Despite the heavy real-life context of “Swimmer,” the music itself is light and dreamy. In a statement on Facebook, the band said that the album is “named for the feeling of suspension and upendedness that characterized this period.” Each track is laced with nostalgia and mystery and feels straight out of the surreal 90s crime drama “Twin Peaks.” 

“Swimmer” has a quick playtime of only 31 minutes, spread out over nine songs. First is “I’ll Haunt You,” which barely sounds like an opening track at all but more resembles a sweet farewell or a movie fading to black. Despite this, it sets the tone of what is to come: an album-length rumination on companionship and aging. 

The first single off the album, “Runner,” is infectious. The track is a quintessential Tennis song: soft vocals, softer music. Moore’s vocals are nearly hoarse, recalling a sense of desperation. The heavy use of synth is juxtaposed with a groovy guitar riff to create a truly unique sound. Overall, the song is one of the best off the album. 

The title track “Swimmer” is another high for the album. The song is reminiscent of Lana Del Rey’s most recent release, “Norman F—–g Rockwell.” It feels moody, hypnotic and vaguely patriotic. It is also one of the few places on the album where Riley’s guitar skills truly get to shine. 

“Echoes” harkens to the past. Recalling the vocals of Nico, the track is straight out of the 60s. The production and music are simple; leaving behind the high effort of other tracks, there is only a bare guitar. The effect really works and provides a mid-album break. The song sounds upbeat and carefree; a quick listen, though, would never hint that the song is a recollection of Moore’s recent hospitalization and seizure. 

Closing the album is “Matrimony II,” a continuation of “Matrimony” from 2017’s album “Yours Conditionally.” While “Matrimony” was an account of the band’s romantic wedding day, the follow-up is more concerned with the familiarity of long-term companionship. A direct comparison of the two songs highlights the band’s evolution over their hiatus. Musically, the song keeps a beat that feels like a slow march, one that mirrors the duo’s relationship, which is described in lyrics as “the gentle pull of gravity that’s being-unto-death.” 

While some might not like the way all of the songs have a very similar sound, it provides a cohesive and trance-like listening experience as one song easily slips into the next. As a whole, “Swimmer” proves Tennis is more than their nostalgic shtick. Moore’s vocals toe the line between siren and angel, the lyrics are just as hypnotic as ever, and the production has finally caught up. Tennis has truly found their sound.

Tennis’ most recent tour kicks off in Kansas City, MO on Feb. 25. Catch them in Atlanta at this year’s Shaky Knees Music Festival on Sunday, May 3.