Small Sounds serves as a precursor to the third full-length from husband and wife pair Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, also known as Tennis, set to come out next spring. In the EP’s accompanying press release, Riley predicts that the LP will be “a bit darker overall, maybe a little weird.” Dark and weird don’t make the list of adjectives commonly used to describe this Denver-based duo, who quite frequently find themselves labeled as “cute,” “twee,” and even “adorable” thanks to their breezy blend of pop and the fact that they’re a married couple who started making music as a result of a seven-month sailing trip. But Small Sounds does, as promised, show a subtle and seemingly natural shift in their sound as it morphs into more soulful, Motown-inspired grooves.
The biggest change this five-track EP offers is the pair’s willingness to give rhythm priority over melody, as seen in the groove of “Cured of Youth”, one of their most danceable songs to date. The vocal harmonies increase in intricacy on this batch of songs, too. On the slower-tempoed Timothy”, Moore sings “Say something sweet to me/ Say it slowly until you believe” over a set of her own whimsical whoa-ohs, as the track quickens with a light, fuzzy guitar.
“Dimming Light” best reveals that the couple’s been spinning the likes of Shuggie Otis, while “100 Lovers” sounds like it could have come from the Young and Old sessions with its sweet, snappy sound. With producer Richard Swift (The Shins, Foxygen) taking over for Patrick Carney, who worked on that 2012 release, the band yet again finds themselves in excellent hands. Their good fortune (signing to Communion and landing both Swift and Spoon’s Jim Eno as producers this go-around) leads to increased confidence – this is still can’t-help-but-smile indie pop, but the continued outpouring of undeniable tunes and attempts at diversifying mood prove it’s here to stay.
Complexity rears its head as well, as the band shelves its candy-coated lyrics for “Mean Streets”, written in honor of the late Laura Nyro (“Laura, there’s nothing wrong with fame/ Leaving them surreptitiously could make a hit out of any song”), who Riley said was “put off by the industry.” Such a nod could be a hint at the darkness to come, but with music as infectious as the five songs presented here, the only issue with Small Sounds is its all-too-soon ending.
Essential Tracks: “Cured of Youth”, “Mean Streets”