It’s been a quiet five years since we’ve last heard new music from Tennis System with the exception of a couple of singles. Five years is long gap for any band in today’s culture of immediate gratification and Tennis System isn’t known for being a quiet band. For the better part of a decade Matty Taylor has led Tennis System through various lineup changes and a move across North America all the while cementing a reputation for eardrum crushing live shows that combine the urgency of punk and skyscraping grandeur of shoegaze. Their previous LP, 2014’s Technicolour Blind tended toward the later with emphasis on songwriting and by sculpting their noise into something beautiful. Lovesick on the other hand, is a return of that punk urgency for Tennis System. Years of disillusionment with life the music industry caused Taylor to second guess his worthiness and his frustration grew, eventually boiling over into the set of songs on Lovesick.
This becomes immediately apparent in opening track “Shelf Life” which sounds like My Bloody Valentine throwing a temper tantrum. It’s length and dynamics are contrasted by the bass driven “Cuts”. Tennis System sets the fuzz pedals to eleven as Taylor sneers about paranoia. If Matty’s stated goal was to marry punk and shoegaze then “Alone” is where he really hits the sweet spot. Taylor‘s anthemic vocals soar over surging guitars and whirlwind drumming marking one of the more memorable moments on the album. “Esoteric” takes a similar approach adding fluctuating tempo changes to Lovesick’s formidable repertoire. “Deserve” was the first single released ahead of the album and it’s easily the best song here. It nearly summarizes all of Tennis System’s strengths from the sudden changes in tempo and dynamics, the fuzz warped guitars, yearning vocals and all capped off with a manic solo at the end. I found the addition of “Fall” somewhat confusing here, not because it’s bad or out of place but it seems like a half finished demo. Taylor sounds like he’s strumming an acoustic guitar a down the hall when he was caught on tape. It’s a welcome change of pace and worthy of more than the brief 40 seconds we get. It also makes the introduction of “Third Time” sound even more brutal as twisted feedback shifts into another fuzz drenched sprint. Taylor gives another inspiring vocal performance despite lyrics riddled with self doubt. It’s got a visceral rawness, but also a deeply emotional core.
“Rotting Out” grabs your attention with hook laden guitars that morph into a swarm of angry insects by the song’s bridge. As the record proceeds Tennis System continue to find new uses for distortion and fuzz, from sledgehammer riffs that hammer home Taylor’s anguish on “Turn” or gentle mood building atmospheres such as “Cologne”. On penultimate track “Come Undone” its a bit of both. The album’s finale “Lovesick” finds Taylor singing about a unspecified passion, which could be about a person as much as his passion for music and struggling to find his own success with it. The song moves from a pensive prayer to hurricane ferocity while juxtaposing tempos and dynamics ending with a simple piano melody. Maybe that was the key for Tennis System, taking a simple melody and pairing it with their strengths. This this an album that rides the ragged edge of shoegaze and some fans of Technicolor Blind might find its lack of polish too abrasive at times, but there’s always simple melodies lurking in the fuzz waiting to catch you off guard and have you singing along.
Lovesick is out September 6th from Graveface Records.
Highlights: Deserve, Alone, Third Time
For Fans of: Nothing, A Place to Bury Strangers, Slow Crush