2020 marked a year of special celebration for Tennis. This year welcomed the release of the band’s fifth studio album, Swimmer, as well as the ten year wedding anniversary of its founding members, Alaina Moore-Ripley and Patrick Ripley. This sense of accomplishment in both music and life is met with mixed emotions: love, pride, and a note of melancholy. Swimmer takes time to explore all of the feelings that come with growing up, aging together, and leaving youth behind to discover the next phase in life.
Like the title, the songs of Swimmer are gentle like motion in water. The songs are all mainly composed of piano, synths, and soft vocals. The opening lines of the album go, “As the sun slips over my shoulder, I can tell I’ve been getting older.” It’s this sensation of overwhelming love mixed with a curiosity about one’s own aging process that flows through the entire album. Tennis seems to have lost the reckless energy of youth; every song feels like a watercolor painting. Even the songs that kick it up a notch are remarkably mellow. The demanding “Need Your Love” starts strong but quickly trails off into a delicate, piano-driven ballad, much like every other song on the album. Musically, this is not the kind of album that demands its listeners’ attention.
The most impressive part of this album was the lyricism. Love is a subject well covered by the band; in this album, it takes time to reflect on the process of aging and the end of youth. In the song “Echoes”, Alaina Moore-Ripley sings, “Once I was young, those days are gone, suddenly I’m thirty-three, and on a gurney.” Even the love notes that are dispersed intermittently throughout the album are notes about aging together. In “Matrimony II”, a sequel to the previously released song “Matrimony”, the band writes about their love in a way that is profound without making hyperbolic comparisons.
In listening to Tennis’s previous albums, I unfortunately realized that Swimmer doesn’t really take any musical risks or do anything that would push the band further. I love the contemplative, eerie pop of Tennis, but after a few listens, the album became a bit monotonous. I would love to hear the band experiment with different sounds; it felt like every song on Swimmer had the same skeleton. This is not necessarily negative, but it does make me wonder what the band could create if it dared to be a bit more adventurous.