And now, an album I actually like: I meant to post this little bit about Tennis’ new record, Ritual in Repeat, last week, but just didn’t get it to. I find this album immensely comforting; it’s so easy to love, so eager to please. This band has become so good at writing melodies that strike this bittersweet, autumnal tone; as I wrote in the review, the characters in these songs always sound like they’re yearning for something, mourning a subtle loss or thinking about a good time long since past or thinking about the peas trapped under the mattress of their lives. There’s a depth and a heart to this record I never dreamed could come from the band that wrote and released an album as flimsy as Cape Dory, and slowly following their growth over the last few years — coming to like them, and then to weirdly love them — has been very rewarding for me as a fan and a critic.
I tried to touch on a social thing I find interesting at the very end of the review, in a very quick way — in my original conception of this write-up, it was the tentpole around which the rest of the review evolved, but after talking it through with a colleague (thank you, Jeremy L.) I really minimized it in favour of other stuff. But I think there’s still a grain of truth in it, even if it wasn’t right for the Pitchfork review of this record, so here it is, plainly stated: I think Tennis’ falling out of critical fashion post-Cape Dory was accelerated by the fact that they became a sort of shorthand for the sort of tone-deaf “privilege pop” some people have accused Vampire Weekend of writing in the past, even if that descriptor didn’t totally make sense. They made themselves an easy target, of course: when your origin story is “we got married, sold all of our stuff, sailed a boat up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and wrote an album about it… and then did it again for our second record,” people are going to dismiss you as lame bougie dopes, especially in a critical era when the people writing about music are more attuned to a) just how banal that kind of thing can be, and b) the advantages you might have been afforded by your race and wealth. (To be clear: I think that increased attention to the social context surrounding new bands, and the writing about them, is 100% a good thing.)
The thing about Tennis is that while Cape Dory was a weak record regardless of the applicability of that descriptor, they’ve gotten so much better since then: their melodies are stronger, their production is more suited to their sound, their arrangements are more fleshed out, their lyrics are about something other than floating on hot stinky garbage water a few miles off Long Island. It’s stuck with them nonetheless. So my hope with this review was to convince a few of the people who still think of Tennis as the silly white couple on the boat that this band is really worth a little bit of their time, now more than ever, and I hope you’re convinced too.