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.
Ritual in Repeat is a nicely confident album, one that takes a simple formula—play Moore’s sweet, thin voice against sour, brooding arrangements, and eventually break open into sticky, yearning choruses laden with harmony—to a few unexpected places. The influence of the complex, emotionally ambiguous pop music of the late ‘60s and ‘70s (a period that casts a shadow over much of the band’s work) is still present, but there’s also tendrils of slinky funk (“I’m Callin’”), contemporary dream-pop (“Viv Without the N”), and spectral thesaurus-folk (“Wounded Heart”) snaking their way through the album. Almost every song has a muscle and weight to its arrangement that complements Moore’s vocal work. She’ll never have the power or gravitas of some of her contemporaries, but she’s gotten much better at writing material that suits her skill set, namely agility and an ease with harmony.
The agility comes in handy, because Ritual in Repeat occasionally sounds a little too cluttered and dense for its own good. The band and producers pile fragments of melody and instrumentation on top of each other, and it can become tough to pick out the most rewarding musical thread. It’s a record that could benefit from the application of what could be termed the Chanel principle, an adaptation of the designer’s famous quote about getting dressed: before you leave the studio, look in the mirror and take one thing out of your song.
Tennis has matured on the lyrical front in recent years, too: Ritual in Repeat focuses on complicated relationships and self-examination, rather than the vagaries of travel or the various meteorological events that marked the band's early work.