By the time they released Swimmer in 2020, Tennis were finishing up a decade-long run as first-rate practitioners of sophisticated pop. Pairing Alaina Moore's pristine and powerful vocals with Patrick Riley's magical arrangements, the sound of the group is an instantly recognizable mash-up of '50s pop, 70's soft rock, and 2010s off-kilter bedroom pop. They keep things mostly intact here while tweaking things just enough to make it one of their more rewarding outings. As is often the case for the band, the songs were crafted on a months-long boat trip where the pair were cut off from the larger world. They went into the process with an eye towards expanding their approach a bit, and that directive led to songs that were a little less straightforward than before, both lyrically and musically. The tracks that hew closely to the Tennis mode of operation feel a little bit more amped up and intense. There are songs that have odd tempo shifts ("Need Your Love"), different sounds (the epic synths on "Runner"), and weird production ("Tender as a Tomb" with its junkshop, almost mariachi feel), and the songs like "Echoes" and the title track that hew closely to the Tennis mode of operation feel a little bit more amped up and intense. They definitely aren't resting on their reputation, and along with making some of their poppiest ("Need Your Love"), darkly emotional ("I'll Haunt You"), and majestic ("Swimmer") music, it feels like they put more effort than usual into creating a diverse, well-rounded listening experience that's steeped in their traditional sound while being a bit of a step forward. And if not forward, at least sideways enough to make Swimmer a breath of fresh air. Not that Tennis were at all stale, seeing as how their previous record, Yours Conditionally, was their best yet. As a band enters their second decade, it's good to shake things up a little so people won't take them for granted. Thanks to the life the duo breathed into the album with their dedication and passion, Swimmer should keep fans on their toes for sure.
by Tim Sendra