On February 14, indie darling Tennis, the Denver band led by sailboat sweethearts Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, dropped Swimmer. The new album is up-tempo; for Tennis, it's nearly a racket. But it also dives deep, with gorgeous songs with goth titles like "I'll Haunt You" and "Tender as a Tomb" that belie the band's easy-listening throwback sound. With Riley losing his father during the production and Moore dealing with her own health issues in recent years, the musicians have been confronting mortality.
"Swimmer explores a year marked by grief and loss," Moore wrote to fans. "During that time, Patrick and I found ourselves turning to each other and our writing to make sense out of senselessness. The result is our most carefully crafted, intimate album yet. There is so much I could say about these songs, but I’d rather you hear them first."
And hear them Pitchfork reviewer Evan Rytlewski did. He mostly liked the record, but on February 19, when Pitchfork gave the band a 6.9 — a glowing number from the site's harsh critics — and critic Rytlewski published his mostly positive review, Tennis couldn't resist clapping back, chafed by Pitchfork's failure to spell the album's name correctly. Twice!
Moore was also irked by Rytlewski's few harsh remarks, particularly this one: "Tennis’ privileged worldview periodically bleeds through in offputting ways (Moore scoffs at 'all the tourists as they flock to the sea' on the title track), but Swimmer is mostly sweet and personable."
"I’m not scoffing at the tourists," Moore responded. "I’m watching them with sadness and longing as they spend a normal day at the beach, while Patrick and I say goodbye to his father. The song is about the day we scattered his Dad’s ashes. Thanks for turning me into Lucille Bluth, tho."
Tennis fans came out in force, defending Moore and Riley and jabbing at Pitchfork.
"They need to hire writers at pitchfork who actually understand how to interpret music...this is so embarrassing," wrote one.
"Clock them queen," wrote another.
"Pitchfork is a joke. Swimmer is a beautiful song and a great album. You guys make my day with your music!" added a third.
And the Tennis review was much kinder than Pitchfork's recent takedown of hometown hero Nathaniel Rateliff's And It's Still Alright.
"Ultimately, this old folkie notion of purity triumphs over Rateliff’s composerly aspirations," wrote reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "The lion’s share of And It’s Still Alright backslides to the gormless balladeering of his decade-old Rounder debut, In Memory of Loss — a record made when he was under the spell of M. Ward, peddling himself as 'bi-curious, redneck indie-folk' and touring with Bon Iver. Set aside the Nilsson pastiche and a lingering echo of the Lumineers — most prominent on 'Mavis,' which he stresses is not named after Mavis Staples, even though that’s the first Mavis that would come to most listeners’ minds — and Alright can seem like a collection of artifacts excavated from Rateliff’s early years. He strums and he mumbles, twisting in his melancholy without bothering to shape his mood into melodies. If he’s baring his soul, his revelations are buried within his slurred, mangled phrasing, a delivery that repels the close listen it’s intended to invite."
Online, Rateliff has been quiet about the nasty review that chides him for embracing authenticity, acoustic guitars and redneck bi-curiosity — and somehow manages to sneak in the enviably brutal phrase "gormless balladeering." But fans of the — in our opinion gormful (or is it gormy?) — singer don't think the 5.0 rating and review is still all right.
One fan was gentle in a response to Pitchfork: "So sorry you feel that way about it. Personally I thought it is a beautiful record."
Another was less delicate: "Once again a snippy pitchfork review that seems to have had an opinion before even listening. Would have done the same to early Dylan. Amusing, but a shame you can't hear the brilliance of this album and Nathaniel as a songwriter."
Still another slapped hard: "You guys are dicks."
As for us, we're just glad that national publications continue to pay attention to these hometown bands, even when some of the spelling — and criticism — doesn't go swimmingly.