Tennis just never stop. Since we met them at the end of 2010, we’ve been hearing from them regularly. In January of 2011, they came out with the album “Cape Dory,” a delicious debut that is said to be the fruit of their seven-month trip on a small boat along the Atlantic coast of North America. Their charming songs won over audiences. Their live performances spread a contagious warmth—the tour was long, around the United States and Europe—and they have kept on giving us more and more songs. On one hand, a series of covers of Brenda Lee, The Zombies and Broadcast, and on the other hand, previews of what would become their second album, “Young & Old,” released by ATP Recordings; this may surprise some, considering that Barry Hogan’s record company almost always chooses risky, cutting-edge sounds.
This second album comes little more than a year after the debut, something that is truly daring. But things have been happening very quickly in the home of couple Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. They wrote the songs in three months—they already confessed to us last May that they were working on new material– and they finished recording in three weeks. This time, they had help from Patrick Carney (half of The Black Keys) with the production, joining them in a studio in Nashville. And here lies most of the change that has taken place in Tennis. The sound has been worked on much more, distancing itself from the lo-fi finishes of their debut. That is to say, as has happened with so many other groups, they have gone from being a bedroom project, and everything that that involves, to being a solid band. Otherwise, they have continued with the same sound—you know, pop evocation of the most sunny, airy 60’s sounds.
Patrick Riley describes the album as “Stevie Nicks going through a Motown phase.” Of course, Tennis owes a lot to Fleetwood Mac, although they still have a long way to go before they’ll be able to hold a candle to them, and there is a soul feeling to songs like “Traveling.” In their first song, they show us what they can do when they feel like speeding up the rpm’s in the usual half-times, and they show us that they also know how to let it all hang out. “It All Feels the Same”, is perhaps the most refreshing of the lot; frenetic and fun, it could pass as the logical continuation of “Take Me Somewhere,” that song halfway between Best Coast and Beach House. The good times keep rolling when they get out the organ. “Take Me to Heaven” does its title justice, and calls to mind the most footloose Victoria Legrand. “Origins” and “My Better Self” take advantage of the band’s more elegant, smoother side. The guitar that plays in the middle of the first exemplifies that improved production, while in the second, Alaina goes into Sarah Cracknell mode (we imagine her with a feather boa hanging from her shoulders, wiggling her hips around the stage). And of course, since Carney is producing, there must be a nod to The Black Keys ( “Petition”).
Some might accuse this album of offering practically the same thing as the debut already did, and they wouldn’t be wrong. There is no reinvention here, but that isn’t something that Tennis were looking for, or anything that is missed very much. It’s more of the same, yes (but better)— “Traveling” or “Robin” could have passed for a part of the “Cape Dory” songbook too. But if they captivated you a year ago, you are likely to fall under their spell again, and their music will keep you warm during these cold months. There is a reason why they are the most charming couple in indie pop.