Album Review: Tennis-Yours Conditionally

Having been around on the semi-alternative (i.e. Sirius XMU) scene for three albums, Tennis have found a way to bring retro vibes together in a digestible, pop setting without completely losing their raw sensibility.  “Yours Conditionally” again floats with blissful vocals from Alaina Moore, who touches upon political commentary without cutting the knife too deep as Patrick Riley adds groove and ambiance to her keyboard and guitar instrumental foundations.  It’s not an album to shatter expectations, however, it’s another focused and valid collection of songs from a reliably intriguing festival band.

The album’s brightest moments come when Moore takes up a bit of a sarcastic tone.  Especially catchy hit “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” pierces the rules placed around women in the world of music and more broadly to marriage: “Try to build a legacy/That will not complicate the future of your own progeny.”  “My Emotions Are Blinding” also addresses similar issues, Moore throwing “Women are much closer to nature” right your face at the first downbeat, before “Please Don’t Ruin This for Me” takes a stab at religion over soaring high notes: “Speak half-truths that sound arcane.”  The sarcastic element adds a nice juxtaposition to the pastel tone color of the sonic landscape.  Perhaps the album would come across as too clean and straightforward if everything was meant to be read at face value, but the subtext gives a little bit of bite.

Unfortunately, there are moments that feel a bit too clean and the difference between sarcasm and earnest material gets muddled.  The album talks about Moore and Riley’s marriage here and there, with much of the same mood as Moore’s takedowns of societal norms.  On “10 Minutes 10 Years,” for instance, Moore says “Those who measure time and distance haven’t known a love like mine/There is only perfect closeness, don’t you leave it all behind.” Over the smooth bass line and bright guitars, it comes across a bit like a Carpenter’s song and loses any sense of risk.

Sonically, the album obviously doesn’t try to dive into any noise jams or guitar solos, so it’s a bit one-dimensional and the grooves sound occasionally quite drab.  “Modern Women” is a bit too slow for my taste and kind of just rides a cloud of mood, like a Drake number that features his singing.  Also, most of the songs don’t have a great deal of sections.  It’s just a chorus and a verse almost strictly over the same blissful groove.  Still, there are some great moments here and there. The first handful of tracks ride at a nice clip and feed into each other nicely.  “Fields of Blue’s” biting drum part, leads into the squirrely bass line of “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” for instance.

Tennis are super Coachella and super marketable.  They’re providing commentary on all of their songs on genius and their vinyl is likely the most sold object at Urban Outfitters this season, but they prove that the fake indie scene isn’t the COMPLETE dead zone that people who only listen to Pavement think it is.  These songs are well thought out and here and there master the art of slight parody to provide a look at the position of women in music and society.  Perhaps if the entire thing wore a costume of expectations, the album would read as a more necessary political statement, but Tennis don’t seem to be trying to provide the most significant political commentary to date, so a collection of nice vibes doesn’t entirely disappoint.

-Donovan Burtan




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