Tennis’ Pollen Tour (Album & Concert Review)

Tennis’ indie pop power couple Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley have graced us with a new album release Pollen (2023). Not to our surprise, pollen and natural motifs are sprinkled throughout the album’s lyrics. Alaina Moore smartly points out during their live performance at Charleston’s Music Farm on November 3rd: “Allergies were a sprig of inspiration.” 

Far from pollen “fucking her up” as Alaina mentions on title track “Pollen Song” or paralyzing the duo in an allergic fit, Pollen ebbs and flows, drifting between quivering melodies and ethereal whispers of Moore’s soft and earnest voice. This title track seems to start slow and build like we would imagine a molecule/spec drifting.

Grooving and gliding once again, Tennis has brought us a musical journey of diffusive proportions. Whimsical and syncretic, the album appeals once again to the duo’s striking contrasts: Moore’s girlish yet assertive vocals and Riley’s steady bass that grooves and bangs. Can we make what was once old new again? Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley certainly can with their disco/ confectionery sweet pop taking us on yet another time travel expedition. 

However, is this album an easy confectionery/forgetful pop piece, or is there a deeper gothic edge to the album? Are they steering away from their formula they have homed from previous track “Need your Love” from Swimmer (2018)-punchy drums and delicate vocals reminiscent of Karen Carpenter and peer vocalist Natalie from Weyes Blood, is there more under the superficial sugarcoat surface that enchants us as listeners? The album’s second track “Glorietta” might offer us some answers. 

The couple’s musical chemistry is undeniable, and their lyrics offer more in terms of their ongoing devotion. “Forbidden Doors” is a glistening intro that sets the scene for the albums’ persistent homage to their seemingly perfect musical partnership and 14-year marriage. This song is every bit as otherworldly and swoon worthy as their album art which is a dizzying embrace of light and color. The lyrics keep grappling for the journey that the wife and husband duo continue to be taking with their musical adventures and mounting expeditions on the glistening blue waters. “Cut through the silence-I’ve got no patience (all that I needed)-We’re knocking on forbidden doors-First time that our eyes met-Never thought I could regret.” 

Seeing this first rack performed live reifies the romance we hear between Moore’s alluring voice and Riley’s ever-responsive guitar thunks. A circular light display oscillates in tandem with groovy guitar and sets the scene for the cynical, sentimental nature of the album and their chance meeting. 

“Glorietta”-the second track on Pollen and the last song performed at Friday’s live performance. Opens with an acoustic punchy riff and showcases an almost country ballad twang to Moore’s vocals and lyricism. With the same country sensibility that influences Angel Olsen’s discography…political undertones take hold as the duo depart from the previous track’s warbling ode to their fateful meeting and rather meditate on American patriotism and the natural landscape…” “And magnetic fields Glorietta…Their patriotic displays are so loud/ I can’t see the sunset through the sound/ You can’t resist the urge to dominate/ Like it was a biblical mandate/ Glorietta/ Glorietta…”

“Let’s Make A Mistake Tonight” urges us to settle in on a fast paced drive as Moore’s lyrics glide from guitar hook to hook: ”Let’s cruise in the vesper night…concrete in the headlights…wheels set their arc like gods.” The vulnerability of her angelic vocals are once again framed by oozing lush guitar. I feel a thirst to take a night drive-”Green Light”-Lorde music video style also similar to the sensation evoked by “Dark Spring” by Beach House. 

“One night with the valet” takes us through time not just through decades of musical styles, but we are borne back into the couples’ memory. Alongside them, we twist and spiral down a cascade of arpeggios and melodies. “First time that our eyes met,” Alaina coos as she gazes lovingly at Patrick on the other side of the stage. The tension is palpable. The delicate floral background and softly spoken interlude adds a layer to already complex visual and auditory stimulation, reminding us of the hazy, dream-like confections of La Femme, the Liminanas, or Melody’s Echo Chamber.

On “Paper,” keyboards take the foreground  as both band members shift gears, showing off their musical versatility. Lyrics like”Early morning quiet in the springtime/Without warning (ooh), passing in a fever” relay images of spring and the perfect occasion for pollen to drift and spread. The two lovebirds beseech the natural elements for their chance encounter despite the adversity aka “fever” that allergies might cause during the change of seasons. Dreamy, whimsical synths chirp, and Moore’s backup vocals after her chorus lines coo. Her gentle, smooth dance moves during the live performance position Moore as a 70s starlet propelled into 2023. 

Persistent acoustic strums add tension to “Never Been Wrong” as Moore asks existential questions: “How can I work with all of this inexactness?/ It’s like doling needle points with a hatchet/ Cannot hold the bright gaze of everything and project a smile like sky split above the rain./ How can I suffer through another sunset?”  The last track “Pillow for a Cloud” is as gossamer and airy as the title suggests, blending images of sky with inner conflict.

We’re ultimately left asking ourselves: does Pollen (2023) ultimately flow by forgettable and cookie-cutter compared to their previous releases? Will this album stand the test of time and the thick competition for best 2023 releases this year? That is ultimately left for listeners like us to decide but it remains apparent that innovative or not, tracks of the album transcended to celestial hights when performed live on Friday evening and we are eager to see what allergy drug-induced session will take the band next?


Tennis with Sam Evian at the Music Farm 11/3

Now it’s time for a review of their Charleston show.

Sam Evian kicked off the night with “Never Know,” a track that put the Music Farm just where it needed to be. Scratching and rolling around in the music, they made their way through dirty solos and swirling vocals.

The New York based artist took it into the next track, the unreleased “Jacket,” where they lollygagged through verses singing “la la la la la / it’s never too late.” This was a sweet change of pace that gave the crowd a nice pocket to sing along in. 

“Rollin In” was flagged by a cathartic chorus. “the waves go rolling in / rolling in / rolling in / rolling in (baby).” As these lines washed over us, light beams streamed over the Music Farm.

In a highlight of the set, Sam brought a beautiful saxophone solo that serenaded the music farm. That man made love to that saxophone. The moment reminded me a little of our very own Charleston Cry Baby.  

The next track they dedicated to Evan’s aunt Paige. As they rocked and rolled through boulderous riffs, they sang the line, “who says you’re the only one,” invoking some introspection in the crowd. They belted out in a strong chorus every time the track came around and it never once rusted. Finally, it reached a Will Toledo / Car Seat Headrest worthy breakdown between the singer and the band, marking another highlight for the set.

Crunchy back beats, bubbly basslines, and ringing riffs were fired off at the audience all throughout the set. All night they’d been testing out material for a record that’d be coming out in March, so this gave us a little bit of a window into the works behind the scenes. 

Next, they played another unreleased track called “Wild Days,” the first thing that stood out to me was the percussion, followed by a huge riff of distortion. Those drums cut through huge waves of guitar like a hot knife through butter, sending tremors into the audience.

“Wild days, wild days, coming our way”

“This one’s for Randy -just kidding, it’s for Brian. This is our last song.” They slid through electric riffs on “Right Down the Line” and with the words, “you’re doing what you love…” opened a nostalgic portal to the past.

Lights swung back and forth and the band brought their set to a close but the night was far from over.

The stage got dark and Tennis entered.

With a glamorous blast of lights, the show came alive. Displays of multicolored volcanoes erupted in the backdrop. “My Emotions Are Blinding” brought the crowd back in one fell swoop, with a classic cut from their 2017 release, Yours Conditionally. The stage glimmered as Alaina Moore sang to the skies, enchanting the crowd in timeless 60’s sounds.

On “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” they dazzled the music farm with more love, pouring out a performance from their heart. Contrary to popular belief, ladies do play guitar.

As she glided across streams of synths and light beams she delivered beautiful choruses to a starstruck crowd on “Matrimony.” Wishy-washy synths whirred through the air as Moore’s voice flooded the farm. The long since weds struck up with what they know best, a heartfelt indie pop ballad. 

They cycled through various instruments as they performed, with Moore leaping from keys to tambourine, all the while baptizing the farm in glorious vocals further spiced up by Riley tearing it up on guitar.

“In the Morning I’ll Be Better” was a dream to hear live (admittedly, my favorite Tennis song). We were all swelled in the calming aura of keys, and vocal melodies.

“Need Your Love” was a set up to a beautiful finisher, hitting the music farm with hypnagogic tempo shifts as they brought the night to it’s close. Violet rings became a sinking backdrop to the band and the world became still for a moment. But there was one track left to play.

Finally, On “Pollen” Moore sat down and set the mood with a beautiful piano intro. They carried the night away with the title track of their newest album before sending the crowd off into the aether. What a wonderful show.

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