Feb 16, 2023
Web Exclusive

By Michelle Dalarossa

With five full-length albums under their belt, Tennis have built a career off of retro-inspired melodies and swaying mid-fi instrumentation. It’s one reason why much of the buzz around the band seemed to focus more on the husband/wife dynamic of members Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, or from the months-long getaways they would spend at sea recharging their creative batteries, than on their music. With each of their albums, their sound emerged slightly more mature and dimensional as they cycled through producers like Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), Jim Eno (Spoon), and Richard Swift (The Shins) before forming their own label, Mutually Detrimental, to self-produce and release 2017’s Yours Conditionally and 2020’s Swimmer. On their sixth studio album, Pollen, the indie-pop duo continue their pattern of sonic expansion, dipping their feet into ’80s-influenced synths and upping the “rock” in “soft rock.” But they never venture too far from their characteristically nostalgic croon, leaving their sonic development just short of substantial growth.

Much of Pollen is rooted in the same elements that make Tennis’s music unmistakably Tennis: overtones of sweet ’60s/’70s pop, Moore’s cooing warble, simple lyrics that lean on natural imagery and relational dynamics. The duo have always had an ear for catchy hooks, whether they’re bobbing and breezy as in “Pollen Song” or drifting and unbothered like “One Night with Valet.” This melodic instinct flourishes on the album’s first half, buoyed by forays into soundscapes previously unexplored by Tennis. “Glorietta” takes the group’s crisp, mid-tempo inclinations and loosens it into a sprawling, feedback-filled outro, while “Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight” demonstrates the rapturous potential of combining Moore’s wistful vocals with twinkling synths and a throbbing bassline à la ’80s pop.

These explorations showcase just how strong Tennis can be when they refresh their sonic palette, and make it all the more lackluster when they fall back on the same sounds. It’s the reason why the second half of the record sags: the songs are as balmy and warm as any of Tennis’ previous work, but their return to slower tempos and retro reveries overshadows any of the attempts at novelty that were made (unobtrusive synths here, bongo drums there), saddling them with inertia.

Only at the second to last track, “Never Been Wrong,” does momentum pick back up, with its grungy guitars and more urgent tempo. Ultimately, Pollen keeps one foot planted in Tennis’ signature style and the other in a more innovative future, serving as a reminder of the untapped potential Tennis still has when it fully commits to bolder sonic diversification. Maybe a seventh album will do the trick. (www.tennis-music.com)

Author rating: 7/10

Rate this album

Average reader rating: 9/10

No ratings have been recorded yet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *