YOURS CONDITIONALLY by Tennis
Best Tracks: “Baby Don’t Believe,” “Modern Woman,” “My Emotions are Blinding,” “In the Morning I’ll Be Better”
Genre: Indie Pop
For a band named after a racquet sport, it’s surprising to learn that indie duo Tennis was formed not on land, but at sea. After graduating college in Colorado, husband and wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore spent seven months sailing along the Eastern seaboard on their sailboat, The Swift Ranger. This voyage inspired their debut album, CAPE DORY, released in 2011.Tennis has since joined the arsenal of co-ed indie rock duos along the lines of Cults, La Sera, and Best Coast, specializing in retro-tinged lo-fi pop rock. Over the next three albums, they’ve experimented with various record labels and producers, including Black Keys member Patrick Carney and Jim Eno of Spoon. They made the choice to start their own record label, Mutually Detrimental, to produce YOURS CONDITIONALLY.
For this album, Riley and Moore headed out on The Swift Ranger one more time—this time from San Diego to the Sea of Cortez—to gain inspiration. And after a listen to YOURS CONDITIONALLY, you can easily hear the effect. Riley’s smooth guitars and Moore’s fluttery vocals float like a breeze over a calm sea. Never before has Tennis sounded so cohesive. On YOURS CONDITIONALLY, Tennis has fully embraced a sound and a look, and the results have never been more fruitful.
The opening notes of the album transport you to a slow dance at a 1950s Valentine’s Day sock hop. Moore warbles the sentimental lyrics of “In The Morning I’ll Be Better” in a humdrum way, as if unfazed by the throes of love she croons about. From early on, a tone is established—YOURS CONDITIONALLY is not an album of love songs. Moore begins her delicate dance between genuine affection and jaded irony. It can be challenging to figure out whether she is employing the former or the latter, and that ambiguity contributes to the album’s intrigue.
Vocally, there’s not a growl or a shout to be found. Rather, Moore’s voice glides smoothly over each tune, delivered with the sweetness and kick of a piña colada. At times, it rides the line of being saccharine. Throughout the album, Moore shifts back and forth between baring her emotions to preserving them. “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” drips with honeyed sarcasm. Moore sings with bite, “Baby I’ve been listening, I can be the archetype of whatever you’re feeling.” On “My Emotions are Blinding,” a raw, fuzzy street pop track evocative of early Blondie, she reveals, “I’m just a vehicle, oh oh, for the material, oh yeah.” Throughout the album, Moore paints herself as a self-reflexive siren.
Vulnerable moments are few and far between. “Modern Woman” is an ode to a friendship gone by, starting out with minimal accompaniment by acoustic guitar and Moore’s sung atonement. “Kate, I’m so afraid you hate me,” she laments. The lyrics are devoid of cynicism, and it’s refreshing. The most haunting moment of the whole album comes towards the end, in which Moore repeats over and over, “I think I might have made it real.” With shimmering guitar and dreamy vocals, the ending of “Modern Woman” is nothing short of hypnotic.
And then there’s “Baby Don’t Believe.” From its first chord, the song establishes a groove that feels worn-in in the best possible way. When the song blossoms into the chorus, the clouds part and it shines in all of its ‘70s-inspired glory. This is where Tennis excels the most—crafting moody, sultry mid-temp pop reminiscent of Todd Rundgren and Carole King. Moore’s languid vocals and Riley’s mellow guitar are mixed to perfection; overall, the track is a game changer for Tennis.
The pitfall of YOURS CONDITIONALLY lies in its use of drums. Especially apparent on tracks such as “Matrimony” and “10 Minutes 10 Years,” the drum production is overwrought and repetitive. Thankfully, certain tracks are exempt from this treatment, but it causes others to suffer.
On YOURS CONDITIONALLY, Tennis has combined garage band production values with intuitive lyrics to create sophisticated pop songs that sound vintage, but not outdated. It gleams with retro sensibilities akin to Best Coast’s CRAZY FOR YOU, but this album isn’t nearly as head-over-heels in love. The album isn’t titled “Yours Eternally” or “Yours Devotedly.” YOURS CONDITIONALLY isn’t trying to win you over. These are songs that exist on their own terms, on their own conditions, and it makes for Tennis’s most rewarding work to date.