Review Summary: Aces.
Tennis has always been a band firmly planted in summer, with a ‘60s pop and ‘70s SoCal rock blend that fit tidily next to your Best Coast and Cults records in a dusty bin labeled “July,” or maybe “blog hype.” Hell, the story revolving around the creation of 2011’s Cape Dory
, when the husband and wife duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley sold their possessions and embarked on a worldwide sailing rip, is the kind of cute love story you smile about in May and gag on in November. Ritual in Repeat
is a bright, sparkling record, with the kind of fine-tuned production edges that come when you bring aboard Patrick Carney (Black Keys), Richard Swift (the Shins), and Jim Eno (Spoon) to assist. It builds on the higher fidelity and more muscular hooks of 2012’s smooth, salty Origins
, resulting in the band’s most manicured effort yet. For a band with such sharp hooks and a uniquely flexible voice in Moore, these higher production values accentuate rather than diminish the charm. Ritual in Repeat
, though, is the perfect album for that particular time of year when summer starts to fade into hues of gold and brown, work and cold.
In its irresistible Brill Building melodies and dreamy mix of doo-wop and indie pop, Ritual in Repeat
is, indeed, another Tennis record, albeit the most lovingly crafted one yet. Yet in Moore’s vocals, now more front and center than ever before, there’s a stronger heart and a more reticent emotional core than previous efforts suggested. Where Cape Dory
and (to a lesser extent) Origins
often came off as delicate and fragile, occasionally collapsing because of their own insubstantiality, Ritual in Repeat
is firm and confident. “Night Vision” thunders in on a foreboding drum rhythm and an almost druggy melody, before expanding like a sunburst into Moore’s effervescent chorus. In that hazy, lustful outro, though, it’s all Moore – “I knew all the love songs,” she sings wistfully, regret and nostalgia haunting every corner. The gentle, persistent tug of “Timothy” (the lone holdover from last year’s Small Sound
EP) turns a surface-level love song into an unsettling portrait of despair and desperation; in what may be the record’s finest pastiche of classic pop, Moore practically begs for a person who is never going to stick along side a swooning melody. “Timothy, say something sweet to me / say it slowly until you believe / tell me that you find, increasingly / elements of merit within me,” she sings, before that final, paradoxically bouncy refrain arrives: “A hard heart will make a man blind / and a hard heart gets harder with time / it’s wrong, I know/ I can’t let go.”
There’s enough variety to showcase Moore as something more than a pretty voice. On the mid-‘80s Madonna homage of “It’s Callin’” she struts naturally and well, while the acoustic wisp of “Wounded Heart” features Moore in full Blue
, her voice resonant and rich. The record’s most powerful moments, however, remain the songs where Moore’s evocative pipes are married to sonic and lyrical content that highlight her ability to tell a story on multiple layers. “Timothy;” the light dusting of scuzz on the guitar marring the upbeat “Solar On the Rise”; the slow burn and climactic twist of the knife in “Bad Girls,” where Moore takes a torch song and sets everything on fire – you can practically feel the sneer in Moore’s voice as she sings, tongue in cheek and voice soaring, “You know I love a good ceremony / that’s why I chose matrimony.” More telling is the lyric that immediately precedes it: “I’ll never find / I’ll never have any peace of mind / if it were physical it would show / if it were spiritual I would know.” With Ritual in Repeat
, Tennis have crafted the most affecting record of their short career and purged the emptiness too often lurking behind the facade of similar artists, not to mention their own past work. It fits quite snugly into that time where summer turns into fall and dreams give way to reality.