After a second album that added some decidedly mid-fi punch and pop to their lo-fi, lilting sound, Tennis' third album, Ritual in Repeat, continues down the same path. Working again with the Black Keys' Patrick Carney on about half the album, the band's sound is muscular and straightforward, with James Barone's drums driving the songs along powerfully and Alaina Moore's unique voice out front and center where it should be. Richard Swift is also on board as producer, and the songs he worked on have a little more of the first albums' dreamy quality, but also a stripped-down and focused feel that really works well. A third producer, Spoon's Jim Eno, is on hand to helm one song, the fuzzy ballad "Bad Girls," and he adds some of his band's sparse drama to the already strong track. All the shuffling of producers and slight variations of sound help to keep things interesting, and make it fun for indie rock trainspotters, but ultimately the album's success hinges on two important factors, the songwriting and the performances. Firstly, Tennis don't slack off at all in the writing department, turning in a batch of charmingly sweet midtempo tracks that have a swooning beauty, a couple end-of-the-night ballads that might lead to swelling hearts and a tear or two, and a few uptempo tracks that show once again that the bandmembers certainly aren't introspective wallflowers. The quality is easily on par with anything they've done yet, and a few tracks (like the slinky almost-disco "I'm Callin'" and the thundering "Night Vision") show some expansion into previously untapped areas. Secondly, Barone's on top of his game throughout the album, always providing the backbeat the songs call for. Patrick Riley's guitars are perfectly utilized and the whole band does a tremendous job of arranging the songs for maximum levels of interest without overloading them. Best of all are Moore's wonderfully expressive, pleasingly weird vocals. Tenderly quiet on the ballads, idiosyncratically tough on the faster songs, she gives the songs an extra boost of originality that puts Tennis head and shoulders above other bands doing much the same kind of thing. When you put together the sympathetic production, the strength of the songs, and the power of the performances, it adds up to another great record by a band whose members are in complete command of their thoughtful, tender, and sneakily hooky sound.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra