When the husband and wife team of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley first ignited the Tennis project, the plan was to write a set of songs to document their time living on a sailboat. In other words, they were kooky to begin with. That original idea resulted in their heralded debut album Cape Dory in 2011. Now, with two more albums under their sailing smocks, they have decided to reconnect with the old maritime magic. This fourth album was written at sea during a five month jaunt around California’s Sea of Cortez.
The immediate results are clear – Yours Conditionally is indeed a restoration of the loose-fitting, blissful, summertime tunes that brought Tennis to the attention of internet music sites everywhere. The opening line of the album is “I’ll wipe your cares away,” and it couldn’t be more apt. Within seconds we are being washed over with that warm, chiming, sun-dried, melodic charm, with every word Moore sings ringing like the key of an organ and Riley’s guitar licks rippling like stones in a tranquil pool. In The Morning I’ll Be Better is the name of the song, a perfect encapsulation of the band’s concoction of languorous melancholy and eternal hopefulness.
The tone is consistent throughout Yours Conditionally. Fields Of Blue and Ladies Don’t Play Guitar are evocative in the way an old, faded photograph is, placing you in a state of mind that you half-remember from happier times. If there were a musical equivalent of an Instagram filter, Tennis could make a killing. On Matrimony, echoey keys flash and shimmer as if wafting in from the next album along in your device’s playlist; Moore sings, “My god it feels so good,” and we know she’s talking about her marriage, but for us it applies to this luxuriant feeling of revelling in nostalgia.
Moore’s lyrics on My Emotions Are Blinding are a wry pastiche of sexist stereotypes: “Women are much closer to nature”, “I get hysterical, it’s empirical” and “I’m just a vehicle for the material” are examples of her deadpan delivery. Her voice, redolent of Nina Persson, is rarely alone, with anything even closely resembling a chorus reinforced with multi-tracking, giving the sense of a fireside singalong, idle passers-by unable to resist tagging along.
If there is a complaint, it is that by the album’s second half, the mood becomes too familiar. It lacks a major shock, a sudden spell of choppy waters. The closest we get is with penultimate track Modern Woman, which presents the couple’s first signs of jeopardy and disunity. “All I want is comfort in a touch or a look… I’m just getting tired of living with this” is the sudden tone of Moore’s lyrics. “I know that’s the way you appreciate me, even though we haven’t spoken lately”, she continues. Her voice is sparser and more solitary, set against a musical backing that is hushed, almost embarrassed to be there. The track finishes, unresolved.
It is the solitary stain on an otherwise unblemished family album. As musically un-diverse as it may be, how cynical and jaded you would have to be to take against it. Tennis’ music is not intended to push at vanguards, but to make you happy. With so much to worry about in the world, we should be thankful.