“My Emotions Are Blinding”
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Husband-and-wife indie pop duo Tennis began their rise to power early this decade, growing an audience on the strength of simple, fun singles like “Marathon” and “Origins”. It’s been a few years since then, but for better or for worse, their sound has stayed remarkably consistent. Yours Conditionally is their fourth album together, released after switching labels for the second time in three years. On this record the band once again makes only minor adjustments to their sound, and to their credit, all of the changes are marked improvements.
To all the tough guys out there who hold monster trucks and football in high regard: Tennis is not the band for you. Vocalist Alaina Moore has made womanhood a central part of her identity since the very beginning, and on this album it is played up more than ever before. As is obvious from glancing at song titles like “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”, this emphasis is often satirical and used to poke fun at societal norms.
Another song that tackles this head-on is “Modern Woman” which also happens to be the best song on the album. This song is a much more serious take on the subject, and Moore herself describes it as “a love letter to a friendship lost.” As promised, the lyrics directly address someone she used to be close to but whom she is no longer in contact with out of fear that she now hates her. The nostalgic melodies and regretful vocals make this one of the only truly emotional songs on the album.
The past is a well of inspiration
Even a cursory listen to this album makes it easy to tell that these guys listen to quite a bit of ‘50s and ‘60s pop music. Songs like “Matrimony” and “Please Don’t Ruin This For Me” mask this influence by introducing unconventional moods and production, while others such as “Fields of Blue” and “Island Music” don’t bother trying to hide it. Either way, it affects the sound of the entire record, giving a traditional feel to a collection of otherwise modern pop songs.
Of course, those who have listened to this band’s previous work know that this is nothing new for them. For the most part Yours Conditionally simply sticks to the formula of what came before it, and that formula has predictably led to yet another decent pop-rock record. The band could definitely stand to throw a curveball every once in awhile, but because they are clearly trying to appeal to fans of simplistic indie pop, this sound still works for them right now. Sooner or later, however, they will have to evolve in some significant way, or they will find themselves lost in the crowd behind Alvvays and Real Estate.
An improving melodic ear
The biggest thing that makes Yours Conditionally a noteworthy album in the Tennis discography is that its standard of songwriting is a little bit higher. While some of their previous albums had a couple decent singles surrounded by filler tracks, there are no notable duds on their newest one. You could make a case for “10 Minutes 10 Years” or “Baby Don’t Believe” as being noticeably less exciting than the rest of the album, but even those tracks have some standout moments.
Overall, it seems like Tennis is finally grasping some of the melodic beauty that eluded them on previous records. The opening two tracks are some of the catchiest pure pop songs the band has written, while “Matrimony” stays more vocally subdued and allows a Beach House-style organ swell to create most of its drama. There are times when the album gets a little bit monotonous, especially toward the end, but thankfully the last two tracks reel the focus back in and end the record on a high note.