Every February, the excitement (and dread) accompanied by Valentine’s Day fills the air, especially for those in relationships. Because of the portrayal of love in American media, it is easy to become fixated with the idealized version of relationships, so people often forget about the negative aspects.
Relationships require a lot of work. Just like a home, if work isn’t being put into a relationship, it will fall apart. Tennis’ album “Swimmer” perfectly conceptualizes this idea, which is shown through their use of polished lyricism and atmospheric sounds.
The indie-pop band, Tennis, consists of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. The duo met in a philosophy class in 2008 when they were students at the University of Colorado Denver. After they graduated, they immediately bought a sailboat and began an eight-month-long sailing expedition along the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard. This voyage serves as a source of inspiration for the band, which is very prominent in their work.
Their music has been described as retro, reminiscent of sounds and recording techniques from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. This holds true for their newest album, “Swimmer.”
“Swimmer” was released on Feb. 14, 2020. Although it was self produced, it is arguably the band’s best production. Whereas their first four studio albums romanticise dating and relationships, this album gives insight into the difficulties of their marriage while maintaining the dream-like aesthetics of their music.
The three most popular songs on the album are “Runner,” “Need Your Love,” and “How to Forgive”, all of which were released as singles before the album drop.
“Runner is the most challenging/time consuming song we’ve ever written,” Moore said. “When Patrick first came up with the guitar riff we knew we had something special on our hands. I had a clear vision for what the song should be about, but struggled to find lyrics that didn’t interfere with the melody/cadence I was committed to. It took more than a year to piece together the melodies into a coherent song.”
Like other songs in the album, “Runner” alludes to Christianity in many ways. The lyrics “When you look at me like that/Feeling like we can’t go back/If I become a pillar of salt/I’ll know that it was all my fault” refer to the story of Lot’s wife in Genesis, who was turned into a pillar of salt after she looked back at her burning city.
Moore’s first encounter with music was in the church, which is why there are Biblical references in her lyrics. She states, “Though my beliefs have shifted since childhood, I am still drawn to the idea of music as aspirational, a striving toward something beyond myself.”
The second song in the album, “Need Your Love” came from a place of anger, as it is written about destructive behaviors and relationships in Moore’s life. The abrupt tempo changes and scattered instrumentation make this very apparent. The hostile lyrics juxtapose the upbeat features of the song to reflect the incessant spiraling of a mental state.
Moore added, “Despite all the heaviness, writing this song was a joyful experience. The music was resilient enough to handle our wildest ideas and we indulged every whim.”
Immediately after “Need Your Love” was finished, “How to Forgive” was written. It is my favorite out of the nine songs on the album. Moore used it as a “palette cleanser to get out of the headspace NYL occupied.” She claims it to be the most difficult song she’s written for herself.
In response to the lyrics “How could I disguise the way that I’m feeling?/I’ve got my reasons, I could give you a million (I can’t help it)/I’d move on if I could only remember/All that it takes is just an act of surrender,” Moore said, “This whole song is a reminder to myself that it takes work to stay angry. After the first moment of anger, you have to keep adding to the story, reliving it over and over to keep the emotion alive. Forgiveness is a struggle, but letting go takes so much less from you than anger.”
Not only does this song showcase Moore’s angelic singing voice, but it sends a poetic message that can help a listener with personal healing and growth.
This album displays incredible vulnerability between the two artists. For example, the album-closing song, “Matrimony II,” shows the audience how deeply devoted the couple is to each other, as it was written in tribute of their 10 year anniversary.
In the 31 minutes and 12 seconds of the album, Moore and Riley describe some of the darkest times of their lives. The song “Echoes” refers to Moore being hospitalized after having a non-epiletic seizure while touring and “Swimmer” refers to the time Riley’s father died from cancer and they dispersed his ashes at sea. Not only do they elaborate on themes of death and aging, but they do so in a sophisticated emotional way.
Although the songs in the album feature simple structure, Tennis has mastered the art of musical storytelling. Moore and Riley perfectly illustrate the dynamics of their relationship while emphasizing the pain that accompanies romance.
If you’re looking for a new indie pop album with sentimental undertones and soft vocals, give “Swimmer” by Tennis a listen.