In November 2019 Tennis announced the forthcoming release of its new album, SWIMMER, its first in three years, via the group’s own label Mutually Detrimental, with the single “Runner.” The song’s stylized music video directed by longtime collaborator Luca Venter was inspired by singer Alaina Moore’s love of “old musicals and all things Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Bob Fosse.” In January, Tennis released a second single and video, also directed by Venter, with “Need Your Love” as well as a visualizer for the song “How to Forgive.” The group’s 2011 debut album Cape Dory was famously inspired by the experience of buying a yacht and spending eight months sailing down the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard. For SWIMMER, Moore and guitarist Patrick Riley spent four months sailing in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico where a large portion of the album was written, followed by time spent in the band’s own recording studio in Denver.
SWIMMER revisits the themes of the ups and downs and identity in a relationship which has informed much of its material. But this time out, the classic songwriting style the band favored seems inspired by records produced out of Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles of the 1950s and 1960s—the bright tunefulness, a touch of soul and lush production suggesting soft lighting as though walking in a daydream.
As with previous releases, these songs sound like they’re coming from a deep, intimate place and though the melodies are soothing and entrancing throughout, as one might expect, there are serious undertones that transcend mere expert pop songcraft. Though the songs may not be autobiographical, it is clearly informed by the experience of being in a long-term relationship and what it takes to sustain them with one’s individual identity and dreams intact while honoring what those people have together. “I’ll Haunt You” seems to address the emotional complexity of having a mutual moment of doubt in a relationship. “Runner,” in which Moore seems to channel a touch of Kate Bush in her lilting vocal line, suggests the natural urge most people have to pick up and move on when it seems as though you’ve reached an impasse rather than talk and work it out. “Tender as a Tomb” has a dark title but it is a reassuring song that mentions the possibility of losing one’s love but reconciling oneself to the idea of staying around. The closing track “Matrimony” declares all the reasons to stay with the one she loves — all without resorting to some hackneyed romantic platitude we’ve heard casually tossed around by so many songs.
Tennis has capably taken listeners on this sort of trip before, but the production this time around, mixed by four-time Grammy Award-nominee Claudius Mittendorfer (Panic! At The Disco, Parquet Courts), is a more engulfing listen with saturated tone in the electronic end of the music than was first hinted at by the band on its 2012 album Young & Old. With SWIMMER the spare and spacious quality that has made its previous material so appealing now resonates in a way that feels like the difference between listening to a song on a transistor radio and listening to one in high definition sound.
Ogden Theatre | April 10