When Tennis put out their first record, not only was I not a fan but I also thought they were pretty stupid for naming themselves after a leisure activity pursued by almost everyone who doesn’t actually like doing exercise. Somewhere in between forgetting about that album and forgetting they existed I stumbled back upon Tennis thanks to a recent compilation put together by up-and-comer MsMr, which you can grab for free here. A mixtape so ahead of its time that it had Alt-J on it before most of Britain even knew who they were, MsMr’s excellent taste in music and insistence on keeping track names intact kept me going during the cold months of winter when I was too lazy to look up shit for myself and decided most music on Earth was overrated. Never underestimate the value of a good curator. And so I found myself lost in a million Google image results of Andy Murray’s attractive girlfriend and Federer kissing various trophies as I attempted to uncover the truth about a band whom I was perfectly content to write off only a year ago.
The lad and lass behind Tennis work so well together on their sophomore release for two reasons, one of which has changed since I first heard them and another which hasn’t. The immovable part of it is that Alaina and Patrick are married, and they have been since way before this band happened. The new bit is that Patrick Carney (who you may know better as the guy who belts the skins behind the other guy who sings ‘I got a love that keeps me waitin’) of The Black Keys produced the album. Safe to say after more than five albums and a growing list of seriously insidious earworms, Carney knows a a good sound when he hears it. Released on Fat Possum, which used to only deal with Southern blues artists but is now home to the Keys, Yuck and Band Of Horses, Young & Old sounds better because it is. And ‘My Better Self’ is the cherry that just so happened to fall in my lap.
‘My Better Self’ is gorgeous. Really, it is. It’s not even that smart, but it’s so summer-dreamy and 1960s power-pop that if you don’t like it you’re probably even more jaded than I. Propelled by a great R&B half-time groove and sparkling melancholy piano chords, the song relies heavily on a beautiful set of backing vocalist harmonies to round out its sound. Alaina softly woozes out her melody, the reverb sucked out of her voice until she sounds like a bittersweet chantesuse on an analog radio. It’s in the bridge, where V-drums join the mix and that classic string sampling lays over the chords that this moves from being a throwaway ditty into an accomplished piece of writing. Again, I think Carney may have a lot to do with it (if you read up on the guy, you’ll know he has excellent taste) but who can turn down working with a married couple? This is the same sort of arrangement that would give us Willow Smith, after all. It may be that I didn’t expect anything quite so nuanced to drop-shot over the net from Tennis, but you can never write anyone off after only one set. ‘My Better Self’ manages to encompass Spector-esque soul, pop, R&B and indie-Cali-rock all in the short space of three minutes and forty five seconds. I’m very impressed.
Your turn to serve.
Tennis – ‘My Better Self’