Album Review — Tennis’ ‘Swimmer’

I have to admit I wasn’t that familiar with the husband-wife duo of Tennis before hearing their new album Swimmer. I had heard of Tennis in passing and a few songs here and there. And man I wish I had listened to the music of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley sooner. But I picked a great album to start with, as Swimmer is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve heard on love in the modern era. I like to think of this album as a more grown-up version of Country Perspective’s top album of 2020, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated. Swimmer though is very much in the dream pop lane, taking influences from twee pop, soft rock and yacht rock too.

Soft and rolling piano plays in opener “I’ll Haunt You.” It’s a song about confessional, professing love. The instrumentation gives it an appropriately hypnotic feel and is a good introduction of what you can expect through this album. I really enjoy the bouncy snare drum that interplays throughout “Need Your Love.” Tennis makes an excellent choice in speeding up the pace when Moore is protesting her lover, yet the melody immediately slows down once she admits she needs his love. This really gives a good sense into the divided mindset of someone who loves someone but is also living in doubt with them at the same time, as both the words and sounds play perfectly off each other.

“How to Forgive” is about disguising how you feel around the person you love and being consumed by the questions in your head about the relationship. “How could I disguise the way that I’m feeling?/I’ve got my reasons, I could give you a million/I’d move on if I could only remember/All that it takes is just an act of surrender” are the money lines that really drive home the mood of this song. That very last line in particular gives such an insightful glimpse into the fear of giving one’s self up to another in a relationship and letting go of that control. Moore’s delivery of these lines really drives the emotion of them across.

“Runner” focuses on the raw passion of the relationship, going down to the beads of sweat that are running down their necks. Once again I have to praise how the production shifts so appropriately with the changing moods within the song, going more methodical and relaxing when Moore is reflecting on the passion, and then the pace shifts to a more frenetic, escalating excitement when she starts to exclaim over the sweat that pours out of her. With this kind of synchronization between the words and production of the song, it makes it instantly connectable with such a vivid picture being painted in my head.

“Echoes” and “Swimmer” are two songs that need to be discussed together for two reasons. For one I couldn’t really discern what exactly they were about, but I’m glad it forced me to actually read what Moore said about writing these songs because the inspiration behind them are the kind of stories I like to hear about from songwriters. That leads me to the second point of why these two songs should be discussed together and that’s because they each center around death.

“Echoes” is about Moore suffering a seizure in a grocery store, leading her husband Riley to believe she was dead at first. Moore also described the ordeal as an out of body experience and how after she came to later that it strengthened their bond even more. “Swimmer” is about the couple spreading the ashes of Riley’s father in the ocean and Moore observing the dichotomy of the sadness of them spreading his ashes versus looking back at the shore and seeing people laughing and having a good time. The message ultimately both songs convey is how reflecting on mortality can cause one to have greater appreciation for your loved ones; out of sadness can come happiness, strength and a greater awareness. It is death that gives life such meaning and therefore love too. You can’t get any stronger songwriting than this.

“Tender as a Tomb” immediately invites you in with it’s warm and tropical sound. It’s a song that gets lost in the overwhelming joy one can experience when in love, engulfing themselves in the emotion, casting away all reason and doubt in the process. “Late Night” features some really clever songwriting around a biblical reference: “Like Mary Magdalene, I’m on my knees again/But if you see me as a saint/You’d be mistaken/Late night turning into morning blue/It took such a long time to make up my own mind about you.” It not only describes her surrendering herself to the sexual pleasure of this relationship, but the emotional aspect too. She’s both literally and figuratively giving herself up to her love. It’s gripping and fantastic songwriting by Moore and Riley.

The album closes with “Matrimony II,” an excellent choice to end with, as it kind of reflects on everything that this album covers, leading to the ultimate act of love: marriage. It goes over the vows and how she changed her name for him, how all these little acts and feelings slowly built up to this moment of true love. What impresses me how well this is expressed in the lyrics without “going Hallmark” or overly cliché. Matched with an equally happy sounding melody, this song makes you leave the album with a smile. I know I did.

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Grade: 10/10