Essential New Music: Tennis’ “Yours Conditionally”

Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, the husband-and-wife duo that records as Tennis, met in a philosophy class at the University of Colorado in Denver. They both played several instruments and had dreams of making music, but no firm plans took shape until they went on an extended sailing trip up and down the East Coast of America. When they got back home, they set their travel experiences to music, leaning heavily on ’60s girl groups and female singer/songwriters from the ’70s. On their three previous albums, Moore’s lyrics complemented Riley’s dreamy melodies with philosophical musings on the nature of life and love that seldom got into specifics. Yours Conditionally is less oblique, more visceral and punchy. The music is infused with an ambient psychedelia, created by layers of gleaming keyboards and unassuming guitar work, supported by Moore’s passionate, multitracked vocals. Her phrasing often lands before or behind the beat, heightening the emotional tension of the songs. The bliss of infatuation drives the subtle bossa nova of “Fields Of Blue,” with Moore’s breathless vocal dancing around Riley’s chiming guitars. A smooth funk backbeat propels “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” a double-edged statement about the place of women in the music business that could just as easily be a comment on the role women have to assume to maintain a relationship with a distracted lover. “Island Music,” the album closer, is quietly devastating. It describes a dying relationship by contrasting Moore’s blunt, almost emotionless phrasing with Riley’s sighing slide guitar.