Review: Tennis continues to chart its own course on 'Pollen'

This cover image released by Mutually Detrimental shows "Pollen," the latest album by Tennis. (Mutually Detrimental via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

“Pollen” by Tennis (Mutually Detrimental)

The band Tennis started at sea. Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley formed the musical collaboration in 2010 while on an extended sailing trip. In the years since, the alt-pop duo has remained fiercely independent. On their sixth album, “Pollen,” they continue to chart their own course.

The nine meticulously crafted pop songs on this album come across light and breezy, but Tennis rewards a close listen by juxtaposing its smooth sounds with biting lyrics and clever instrumental detail.

The self-described control freaks have worked hard to maintain artistic control. Their creative process continues to include long stretches at sea, unplugged from media and beyond the reach of industry trends. When on solid ground, they record from their home studio and release on their own label, Mutually Detrimental.

On “Pollen,” Tennis moves away from the DIY sound of their early albums and leans hard into a glossy pop. The release is peppered with a broad variety of influences, including ‘60s girl-group vocals, ’70s glam guitar punches, and synth-y '80s keyboards. Other acts such as Beck and Weezer present retro sounds with a dose of irony. Tennis plays it straight with earnest curation of classic and contemporary sounds.

As a married couple, Tennis falls well outside the rockstar lifestyle. Their previous outing, “Swimmer” (2020) explored themes of long-term companionship. “Pollen” continues the domestic introspection, but with a turn toward restlessness and mortality.

The song “Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight” channels early Madonna, like a return to “Holiday” that has been slightly slowed and weighted by the potential consequences of a night of carefree abandon.

“Pollen Song” sits at the album’s emotional and musical core. The sunny acoustic guitar belies Moore’s melancholy delivery of the lyrics, “Don’t know when my body became so fragile/Even a spring rain is too much to handle.”


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