Ten years into their existence as a band, and as a married couple, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley of Tennis have released a mature yet effervescent album confronting age and the future. The album is not a departure from the band’s reliable mix of sunny pop rhythms and Moore’s gauzy vocals but is an expert handling of those characteristics amid heavier material. In the land of bloated 50-minute plus albums, Swimmer is a relatively short 30 minutes, but that length proves the efficiency of Tennis’ artistry and the clarity of their mission.
In a newsletter to fans, Moore described this album as a “story of deep-rooted companionship strengthened by pain and loss,” and those threads of loss and that love that gets you through is evident throughout these nine tracks. “I’ll Haunt You” is a slow, gracious album opener that directly addresses the sensation of growing older and particularly growing older with one person by your side. The gentleness of that first track is smashed to bits with “Need Your Love,” which comes in thrillingly on a propulsive drum beat that establishes the tone of this song about cutting lose people you can’t stand. It’s an angry song by Tennis’ standards, but of course, sounds about as aggressive as a newborn puppy. This contrast makes it all the more enjoyable to hear Moore slyly upend expectations when she sings, “I need your love… like I need a bolt of lightning from the sky above.”
The following track seems to respond to “Need Your Love.” “How to Forgive” begins a trend visible throughout the album, of reckoning with your habits, faults, and impulses and striving to be better than them. “Forgive” finds Moore singing, “why do I go losing control? What am I looking for? It’s so easy/ I can’t help it” while buoyed by a rhythm inspired by early, extra-girlish Madonna. The following song, “Runner,” is an instantly hook-y song with a surprising rhythm that finds the singer realizing that she is the one who will most likely ruin a relationship. The penultimate track, “Late Night,” has Moore reckoning with her position as a woman in the world and the internal freedom she has struggled to feel because of it.
The middle section of the album is the real sweet spot. “Runner,” “Echoes,” and “Swimmer” make a middle third that is surprising, vulnerable, and consistently compelling. “Echoes” tells the story of Moore’s health scare in which she fainted and had a seizure, as she and her husband thought she might be dying. The song reckons with that brush with mortality with some of the more upbeat music of the album; this harsh discord is especially potent, creating the spirit of that liminal space between death and life, where you could either perish or be revived. “Swimmer” focuses on a smaller moment, the day when Moore and Riley scattered the ashes of Riley’s father into the sea. While discussing this event, Moore considers her aversion to learning how to swim by drawing a comparison between the immensity of water and death.
While those three stand out brightly in the center of the album, there isn’t a weak section of the album. “Tender as a Tomb” doesn’t pack quite as much of a punch as you might want, but its surprising, tropical-pop music makes it a fun inclusion nonetheless. The flow of these nine tracks is sturdy as well, with the slow beginning of “I’ll Haunt You,” eventually arcing up to “Echoes” and coming back down into the marriage-focused introspection of “Matrimony II.”
This relatively simple, and personal, closing track brings the central journey of the album into focus. Throughout deaths, loss, aging, and external forces, Moore and Riley have stayed together and continued to pull each other into their respective gravitational orbits. The final refrain of “Matrimony II” is “I could never find something better/ I’ll never be the same.” That matter-of-fact statement is all you can really say about something as significant as a long-term relationship.
Like that closing statement, Tennis keeps things short and to-the-point with Swimmer. The songs are reliably sunny and up-tempo like the best of Tennis singles of the past, but there is a perfect amount of weight here that keeps their brand of airy pop from floating away.