It sounds almost like a modern fairytale—two college students fall in love, graduate, embark on a sailing trip down the East Coast, start a band, and release an album about their nautical adventure. It’s actually the origin story of Tennis, a Denver band consisting of Alaina Moore (vocals, keyboard, guitar) and Patrick Riley (guitar, bass). In 2010, the duo’s debut album Cape Dory (the one about the sailing expedition) generated buzz from outlets like NPR and Consequence of Sound. In 2016, after a few more years of making cheery indie pop, Moore and Riley got back to their roots by hopping in a boat for inspiration once again, this time ready to venture into the Pacific Ocean. The result of this sabbatical was Yours Conditionally—an album that’s generally as romantic and laid-back as one might expect, though not without some edge and sadness in the mix.
The cover art of Yours Conditionally—a faded, retro-looking image of Moore and Riley seeming thoughtful with their heads close together—is an apt representation of its content. Musically, its 10 tracks are very much a throwback to the easy sway of ‘60s and ‘70s pop. The duo’s fondness for the breezy vibe of old-school ballads is noticeable from the start of the “In the Morning I’ll Be Better,” the album’s first track (and definitely one of its highlights). In the song’s first moments, Moore’s airy backing vocals meld gracefully with upbeat piano chords, setting the tone. Then the steady sound of bass and guitar joins in to complement Moore’s simple, but effective words about “believing in our own healing,” completing the neat picture of committed love that the song paints. Moore’s voice is perfect for the material—clear and unwavering, much like the message she expresses in her lyrics, it’s adept at communicating emotion.
The sonic atmosphere of “In the Morning I’ll Be Better” more or less persists throughout the rest of the album. Mid-tempo rhythms and easygoing instrumentation characterize most of the tracks. That’s not to say that Yours Conditionally is nothing but sunshine and sea foam, though. Of course, the album is full of lyrics that straightforwardly and sweetly express the couple’s feelings for each other—e.g. “Fields of Blue,” which seems to have been inspired by those memorable ocean voyages, and “Matrimony,” which is pretty but sometimes slips into saccharine territory. However, there are also hints of darkness artfully placed amidst all the light. Take “My Emotions Are Blinding” and “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” which show that Moore knows that a woman’s belief in feminist ideals can coexist with her belief in true love. The songs’ social commentary is subtle, but welcome—and sure to leave social-justice-conscious listeners wanting more. Another wonderfully pensive track is “Modern Woman,” a heartfelt reflection on a damaged friendship. From the opening lyric—the brutally honest, brutally personal “Kate, I’m so afraid you hate me,” sung softly over the lonely sound of strumming—it seizes the listener’s attention and elicits his or her empathy. Much of the song’s magic lies in the fact that the lyrics stray from accusatory language and instead choose to reveal the singer’s vulnerability and wishes for reconciliation. It has a beautiful sense of maturity that’s not often seen in pop, but which Tennis seems ready to adopt.
Overall, while Yours Conditionally is not particularly experimental or bold, it’s a pleasant rumination on relationships and hardships that will certainly charm those who adore old-school pop. There’s something undeniably endearing about the tracks’ focus on celebrating people instead of the material. On top of that, the duo’s willingness to touch on feminism would be interesting to see expanded upon in future releases. Hopefully, in its next album, Tennis will not hesitate to embrace the adventurous spirit of its seafaring expeditions.