On Swimmer, Tennis have reached a new level. The album emerges from a time of darkness, following a series of unfortunate circumstances after the release of their 2017 album, Yours Conditionally. Yet, as the band aptly point out: Swimmer is not a dark record.
Instead, Swimmer, feels like a moment of self-actualisation, an embracing of lightness – and on their fifth album, Tennis can do no wrong.
On Swimmer, Tennis prove they’re just getting started. A romatic, cinematic offering, the album traces the connection between two people, finding light in darkness.
Swimmer is a relatively short album. Opening with the gently warping I’ll Haunt You, it feels like we are at the final scene of a movie. The sun is setting, all disorder has dissolved. Except, that in reality, we’re at the opening of an album. It’s a beautiful way to start, feeling as though we’re at the closing. The song is full of the weight of some invisible history, yet in form, it’s astoundingly light.
Tennis is the project of husband and wife Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. In 2017 they released their fourth album, Yours Conditionally, and finally found the success they had been pursuing. Then a series of tragic occurrences unfolded. Moore developed influenza near the beginning of their tour and had a seizure in the supermarket which left her hospitalised. Riley’s father passed away from cancer, and Riley, still on the road, was unable to say goodbye. Then, upon the completion of their shows, they received a third blow: Riley’s mother was seriously unwell.
From the ashes of these experiences, Swimmer was born. Yet despite it being one of the darkest times in their life, Swimmer got its title for a reason quite the opposite. “Named for the feeling of suspension and upendedness,” the band describe. Lightness. Swimmer, is the opposite of everything it contains, and in the face of darkness, it’s about the strength of a connection between two people: Riley and Moore.
“As the sun slips over my shoulder, I can tell I’ve been getting older,” Moore sings on the cinematic opening lines. “Drawn to you like the horizon, I’m the first one to break the silence.” Her vocals are intimate over timeless keyboards. The ballad effortlessly transitions into a pulsing chorus, ever so slightly more futuristic.
Where their previous records have erred on the side of a more throwback sound, Swimmer finds the imperceptible line between nostalgic and classic. There is a subtle modernity that has seeped in, and it serves them well.
Need Your Love follows on from I’ll Haunt You. It’s immediately confident. Moore’s vocals are one of the great treasures of this record, never have they sounded so good. There are shimmers of Fleetwood Mac‘s Stevie Nicks as well as Kylie Minogue. But the incredible thing about her voice is just how multi-faceted it is. Moore is a thing of her own.
Need Your Love has a twang of Gwen Stefani from the No Doubt era. On How To Forgive, she has hints of the soulfulness of Solange, and then on Runner, the soft fluttering of Cocteau Twins‘ Elizabeth Frazer. At other points, her notes twang like Lana Del Rey. Her voice, impossible to pin down, has seemingly endless possibilities. Perhaps it is this breadth which gives Swimming some of its power, Moore refusing to be boxed into any one thing.
The synths are another standout on the album, Runner glitters without glittering too much. On Matrimony II, strings add extra magic. Tracks like How To Forgive and Runner drive with drum machine precision, still managing to keep space so as to maintain the overarching lightness.
The ’60s-harking Echoes is the most nostalgic of the bunch. Sliding guitars bring back that cinematic romance from the album opener. There’s a returning sense of the ocean, and it makes sense. Apparently some of the record was written in a fisherman’s cove called San Juanico, with only an acoustic guitar and a drum machine. Perhaps such minimalism was beneficial.
“An abstract dread, an obliterating void as untenable as outer space.” That’s how Moore used to think of the ocean. Yet following the death of Riley’s father, the pair sailed with his mother into the Pacific. They scattered his father’s ashes at sea, and in doing so, forever re-wrote the idea of the ocean in Moore’s mind. It was then that the name Swimmer was born.
The title track is one of the slowest. Chorus-soaked guitars, driving bass, and heart-wrenching vocals make for devastating dream-pop perfection. There’s a gorgeous simplicity and effortlessness to the songs on Swimmer. They aren’t trying too hard, and the result is superb.
“I set out to describe the love I have come to know after ten years of marriage,” described Moore of the album. “When you can no longer remember your life before that person, when the spark of early attraction has been replaced by a gravitational pull.”
“How long can we stay like this? Leaning in for one more kiss?” Moore asks in the opening song. By the end of Swimmer, it feels like the answer is forever.
Swimmer is out today, via Mutually Detrimental. Grab your copy here.