Denver duo Tennis splashed on to the scene with their 2011 oceanic doo-woppy debut, Cape Dory. It was a style that the indie-sphere hadn’t been graced with yet, and it established Tennis as a throwback act of sorts. Three years later, on the band’s third LP, Ritual in Repeat, Tennis embarks on an ambitious exploration reminiscent of classic pop singers and introduces a different type of throwback approach to their arsenal.
Tennis’ Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley brought in producers Patrick Carney (of The Black Keys), Jim Eno (of Spoon) and indie heavyweight Richard Swift to help them craft the record. While working with three different producers makes Ritual In Repeat sound scattered at times, it succeeds in bringing out the essence of each track—each with its own nuances, mission and inspiration.
On the Carney-produced “I’m Calling,” we’re instantly reminded of Madonna, and it calls to mind the image of Moore donning a skin-tight onesie from Cape Dory’s Lisa Hartman-inspired album cover. It’s easily the most notable of the album’s many polished moments. But the nods to ‘70s and ‘80s singers don’t stop there. “Never Work For Free” has that Pat Benatar, dancing-in-front-of-the-mirror, singing-into-your-hairbrush vibe, and Tennis even scales it back to a Joni Mitchell-esque acoustic ballad on “Wounded Heart.”
Yet despite all of the callbacks to classics, Tennis still manages to infuse Ritual In Repeat with the signature brand of indie dream-pop/doo-wop that it became known for. “Bad Girls” sees the band in its comfort zone, with Riley’s smooth keys on top of twangy guitar riffs, soulful backing vocals and Moore, the ever-so-powerful shining star, front and center. The same sonic themes are tackled on “Timothy” (the album’s lone track that appeared on 2013’s Small Sound EP), but with an added twisty, almost harp-like guitar.
For all the tracks that sound like Tennis’ usual output, there are equally as many that constitute a “new” sound for the band and present a certain degree of risk. On Ritual In Repeat, Tennis discovers new capabilities well, and it shows that a record doesn’t necessarily need to have a central theme for it to be an ambitious collection of songs.