Review Summary: Achoo
The dreampop husband-and-wife duo's latest release in Pollen is a subdued affair. This isn't a particularly noteworthy revelation, as their music has always exercised the elegant restraint typical of the genre. It offers much the same shimmering production and glossy instrumentals, but with a further scaled-back sense of neat formalism now pervading the overall effect of the record, mostly owing to the pronounced atmospherics that they had previously simplified on their more recent releases. This former, more ambient sense of subtlety allowed the vibe to feel somewhat unique as a signature sound, and afforded the melodies room to breathe and the soft grooves an opportunity to nestle into the musical tapestry in a way that felt more organic, and less routine as a genre outing. Pollen is still much in the same vein as their previous albums, in that it is extremely likeable and has an agreeably whimsical vibe that it is hard not to become enraptured in, yet it also feels shallower because of this upscaling, and the interplay between music and vocal suffers by extension.
Skirting the same emotional fringes that the duo have become so adept at exploring, the lyrical content concerns such topics as love, loss, nature and politics, and the charmingly earnest manner in which these subjects are tackled gives the release a smooth channel by which it communicates its misty-eyed lamentations. The lyricism has a clear-cut yet intricate quality to it, much the same as the defined facets of a diamond, managing to balance between wispy profundity and a stark emotional curve that at times borders on a folksy darkness. The musical aesthetic breathes the same ethereal atmosphere as its predecessors; all dreamy synths, pattering percussion and a booming bass keeping pace against vocalist Alaina Moore's heartfelt tones. Even though the solemn yet playful quality of Pollen has an immediate minute-to-minute appeal, it lacks the staying power of the couple's best releases, and feels like it operates through a slipstream of yoghurt commercial typicality rather than the more settled, subtler effect as seen most prominently on previous full-length, Swimmer.
Tracks such as 'Let's Make a Mistake Tonight' and 'Pollen Song' manage to retain memorability through their cloudy melodies, and feel like standouts for this reason. The latter especially, with its uplifting guitar and the strung-out vocal feels almost operatic within its contained sound, flitting between soaring bliss and delicately skittering patterns. Following track 'Hotel Valet', with its plodding, crashing beat and pitch-bent electronic inflection also demonstrates a sense of transcendent glee and genuine heart, but is devoid of a hook that makes it particularly memorable. 'Gibraltar' is similarly afflicted, feeling like an especially routine outing and lacking any real nuance or extra dimension to its sound, in spite of the pleasing vocal melody. The trademark atmospheric wooziness is consistent throughout Pollen, and much like the rest of Tennis's backcatalogue, it doesn't really build toward anything during its runtime beyond a few tempo increases. Instead, it percolates, and does so effectively, transmitting an understated, almost cosmic sense of twee lethargy. Final track 'Pillow For a Cloud', mirrors its diabetes-inducing title with its tone and vibe, feeling undeniably buoyant and sweet, yet also trite and unfulfilling. In this respect, it feels like a fitting closer for the album.
Pollen does a whole lot right during its colourful 35 minutes of fluffy vibrancy, and offers a good amount of satisfyingly calm and upliftingly jubilant excursions that will undoubtedly please fans of the band and indie pop aficionados. The real disappointment is the lack of staying power and the re-introduction of heavier atmospherics that on occasion threaten to swallow the glittering dynamics on display in the foreground. It is a pleasantly entertaining experience which conveys a great many floaty, gleaming diversions, but beyond the agreeable nature of the music and the angelic strains of Moore's voice, the release struggles to have any real impact as a noteworthy dreampop experience, or as a particularly replayable instalment from Tennis as artists. It feels like a guilt-free treat: delicious and satisfying but forgettable and lacking anything truly substantial.