Tennis, Ritual in Repeat

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 09.09.14 in Reviews

Ritual in Repeat


Writers love a good story, and the one about Tennis’s Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley forming a band following their seven-month jaunt down the Eastern Seaboard bears repeating. Right after their breezy 2011 debut Cape Dory brought homespun variations on girl-group motifs, the lovey-dovey Denver pair started toughening up: Distorted guitars ensued when the following year’s Young & Old put the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney in the producer’s chair, while 2013′s Small Sound EP beefed up the beat. As much as we’ve wanted them to fulfill our collective fantasy of a husband-wife team strumming Gilligan’s Island castaway pop on their ukuleles, they’ve consistently resisted.

Tennis snaps and twists closer to the sounds of their recent tour mates HAIM

Despite its title, Ritual in Repeat keeps ringing in the changes. This one brings Carney back for five songs, ropes in the Shins’ Richard Swift for four and adds Spoon’s Jim Eno for another. Moore and Riley’s love of vintage genres remains, but on Ritual‘s first singles, they’ve moved on to the Reagan years. Their greatest achievement yet, “Never Work for Free,” she-bops on Cyndi Lauper-esque background vocal exclamations, while close runner-up “I’m Callin’” brings early Madonna magic. Given their boy/girl lineup and initial hazy production values, Tennis were initially slotted next to Beach House’s dream-pop, but here they snap and twist closer to the sounds of their recent tour mates HAIM.

These allusions are subtle, though: Although they didn’t seem like the kind of act that was built to last, Tennis keep evolving. Even on the sweet ‘n’ short “Wounded Heart,” where there’s nothing but voice and acoustic guitar, Moore croons more confidently; the melody flutters with greater grace. And when they revert to Brill Building balladry — now with additional shades of Spoon — for “Bad Girls,” she unquestionably belts out its climax: “There is a need always dividing me/ From all the things that I’ve been hiding.” Here she lets those secrets show.