As winter begins to melt into spring, American indie pop duo Tennis unveils their wistfully sensitive sixth album Pollen, released February 10, 2023 under Mutually Detrimental. Husband-and-wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore began making music in 2010, releasing five other albums between then and now. Their 2020 release Swimmer was named one of the best albums of the year by USA Today, and the pair is known for their dreamy, translucent music that transports listeners to a realm of utter bliss. However, in their latest release Pollen, Tennis has taken a step back, focusing on the small details in life and only adding instruments and production work to carry out their message on the delicateness of living.
With piano chords and Moore’s unmistakable airy voice, Pollen opens with “Forbidden Doors.” The psychedelic nature of the track is reminiscent of Tennis’ previous works, but this misty dream-pop wave allows for the duo to carry over their classic sound into this new era. The following piece, “Glorietta,” shifts in tune as it begins with acoustic guitar notes. However, the song quickly builds up, and Moore’s strong, but still whimsical voice, elevates the female-praising track to that of Fiona Apple’s iconic feminist warbles. “Out of the ashes, she’s Lazarus/ Wrapped up in chemtrails/ Watch them rise and fall/ In v-formation, I can feel it in my teeth.”
The fourth song “One Night with the Valet” emulates Beach House level synth and idealism. With Riley’s almost jazz like piano chords, and the underlying background beat, the track showcases Moore’s incredible pitch range. The duo’s ability to strip back a song not in the instrumental sense, but in the production of it, rings throughout the entire album, sticking out particularly in “Paper” and “Never Been Wrong.”
“Pollen Song,” the fifth track on Pollen, resides in the middle of the collection largely because of its unique nature. Tennis uses the song as a juxtaposition to their message; while the energy and catchy guitar tunes seem like the perfect spring jam, the lyrics covering the power that small things can have supports the band’s message of the unintended consequences of life. As people cough and sneeze due to the nuisance of pollen, it becomes difficult to remember that it is nothing more than plant seeds, something that should be harmless but affects everyone who walks by. “We follow the trail where the blossoms have fallen/ But all I can think of is the pollen f*cking me up/ Everything moves too fast/ Oh, I don’t know when my body became so fragile.”
The next couple of songs continue to exemplify Tennis’ new waves of fragility and synth, keeping a consistent feel of spring time air. The repetitiveness of the tracks allows for listeners to fully engage with the compositions, letting the darker notes contrasted by Moore’s high singing completely take center stage with its elegance. “Never Been Wrong,” the ninth track, starts out slowly as a misdirection before transforming into a full orchestra of ethereal sounds. The bridge, sung entirely in Latin, becomes a church choir procession, Moore’s voice echoing out into every crevice possible in a holy fit of light. “The tongue cannot say what is unknown/ You should not seek to see a miracle.”
Pollen closes with “Pillow For a Cloud,” a song as beautifully imaginative as its title. Tennis has been making music for over a decade, but their craft, and skillful means of making sublime beats, has only improved over the years. As allergies begin to fester in each of us, Tennis reminds us that a little bit of pollen should never stop us from appreciating the little moments in life.