Album Review: “Pollen” by Tennis is full of unbridled love songs, otherworldly romance and poetic lyricism 

The album comes after the just pre-pandemic release of their fifth album, Swimmer. Now, their sixth album, Pollen, comes at the close of three torrential years of pandemic life. But what better way to start and end a pandemic than with new Tennis.

The husband-and-wife duo, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, met in class at the University of Colorado in 2008, and their musical harmony was founded. The couple spends lengths of time at sea, where they write and create music that reflects their life ashore. Consequently, their songs have the reverberation of their trips sailing the waves of the Atlantic. One might assume a life at sail would be peaceful, but their lyrics prove to reveal the difficulties of life even while at sea. There are the dangers of both storms at sea and ones that trickle into life. Swimmer was a project resulting from life changes that etched at the comfort they ’d known and a loss of stability after being faced with health issues. Their follow-up album delves deeper into the ebbs and flows life.  

Pollen is an amorous album. On previous releases, the couple writes on their perspectives of love, married life, and societal pressures of women but the songs of Pollen are of an aesthetic love.  While Pollen, tells of romance without inhibition and features lyrics with intimate recollections of moments between admirers. The songs range from tales of a relationship in a different time period to an unveiling of life’s stresses, wrapped up in beautiful harmonies and chord structures.   

In interviews, Alaina has spoken of the songwriting inspiration she found in singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro. In a 2014 interview with Dazed Alaina states, “Laura is one of my favorite songwriters…She wrote music as a form of pure expression; sometimes she wrote hits, but mostly she wrote experimental, challenging piano ballads.” The inspiration availed as Tennis has a similar knack for writing songs in a way that only a 70s balladist could. The album’s essence is captured in “Hotel Valet”, a working-class love story that details the beautiful moments between everyday people. The story is backdropped by 80s synths and a bridge with layered choir-like harmonies.   

The lyrics evoke the continuing tale of a hotel valet and waitress as told in other songs on the album,  

“You worked the graveyard and you slept through the day
Wearing the uniform of hotel valet
I worked the kitchen when I carried your plate
Who would have known that I was serving you fate”  

It is a song that highlights the quieter moments that people can miss between others.   

“Forbidden Doors“, the album’s opener, has the tight rhythm of a Tennis song but features an interesting harpsichord like riff. The harpsichord riff in the bridge has an impactful sense of bygone remorse as Alaina sings about questioning decisions and having regrets. On Swimmer, Alaina more prevalently sung in a higher falsetto which is also featured on various songs of Pollen, adding to the ethereal feel of the project.  

The title track, “Pollen Song“, is airy resembling the sea faring tracks of Tennis’ past releases. The lyrics are a different form of honesty. It’s a resigning to aging, growing and the somewhat fragility that comes with getting older.   

“Everything moves too fast, oh I
Don’t know when my body became so fragile
Even a spring rain is too much to handle
And it feels like, it’s just the pollen”   

Despite the pollen and growing older, it’s a windows down track that hints at being okay with life’s frustrations.  

Tennis has a perpetual 1970s essence and yet, each of their releases adds refreshing elements that make for a gratifying listen. Pollen is like a turn of the decade album for Tennis. It’s like ‘79 to ‘80, they’re the same Tennis we know and love, but their storytelling, honesty and experimentation is bolder.   

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