Imagine enjoying a nice, sunny day and listening to equally cheery music: that’s the feeling Tennis has exuded since 2012. The light and airy pop music in their second studio album, Young and Old, enhanced with just a hint of jazz, proved to be hard to hate. From the fuzzy riffs of “Origins” and the jazz-infused “Petition” to the sheer happiness that leaps out of “High Road,” that album tweaked the generic indie-pop sound.
Working closely with producers like Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, the husband-wife duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley attempted to mature on their third and latest studio album, Ritual in Repeat. While the instrumentals on their past albums offered a clean sound that complemented Moore’s high and vibrant vocals, Tennis’s new sound adds layers and layers of noise, at times creating a muddled effect.
Moore and Riley have gone too far to beat critics who have claimed that their sound is too simple. If they took a couple of layers of sound off each song, they might find themselves with a much crisper and better product.
Ritual in Repeat still contains some highlights and songs that deserve to be heard. The album opener, “Night Vision,” is a stunner; I admit that it left me with chills the first time I heard it.
It sets a surprisingly dark and brooding tone for a band that is known to be light and cheerful. The track, defined by its sultry and seductive chorus, instantly grabs the attention of the listener. The heavy bass contrasts beautifully with Moore’s soaring vocals, and the breakdown in the last third of the song introduces a dynamic guitar that is unfortunately missing from much of the rest of the album.
Out of any track on their third album, “Never Work For Free,” the record’s first single (originally released in June), is the most reminiscent of Young and Old. The fuzziness of the synth that opens the track harkens back to “Origins,” while the light electric guitar brings back memories of “It All Feels the Same.” The song makes you bop up and down, bringing a smile to your face as Moore’s disjointed “ah” and “way” sounds serve as an interesting complement to the vocals in the chorus.
Unfortunately, after the first two tracks, Ritual in Repeat becomes monotonous. A couple of songs are capable of grabbing the listener’s attention for a few moments. Certainly, the little hook in “I’m Callin’” is interesting, but since that sound disappears quickly, the rest of the song disappoints.
“This Isn’t My Song” does the best job at retaining the listener’s focus: An interesting keyboard melody kicks in during the chorus, and the last minute of twangy guitar is pure gold. “Wounded Heart” is as close to pure folk as Tennis has ever gotten, but at less than two minutes long, it is simply dull.
This is the problem with the majority of Ritual in Repeat: While part of the lyrics or instrumentals might catch your attention for a minute, most songs lack the ability to keep the listener’s attention. Whereas Moore and Riley’s past endeavors exhibited some quirkiness, the duo has lost much of their flair on Ritual in Repeat. In the past, the slight peculiarities of their otherwise simple instrumentals could be heard and appreciated, but now their new production just covers that up.