Album Review: Sofi Tukker – Wet Tennis

[Ultra/Sony; 2022]

With a twice Grammy-nominated debut album, Sofi Tukker are to be taken seriously – even if their music might not make you think that. Treehouse, the aforementioned debut, was a glow-stick-welding party mix, and had a pandemic not stopped them in their tracks, then the duo would no doubt have spent the years instigating crowds of fans into frenzies. Stuck at home, however, Sofi Tukker (made up of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern) reconnected with their fans (called “The Freak Fam”), hosting daily live streams where the duo were able to utilise direct feedback to inform the songs that would eventually make up their new album, WET TENNIS.

If anything is undeniable about WET TENNIS, it’s that Hawley-Weld and Halpern are still out to invigorate crowds and fill dancefloors. Across 12 tracks, the album has a handful of infectious and addictive bangers and party starters that bring together a wide range of styles, from house to EDM to pop to Latinx influences. “Larry Bird”, with its steel drum inflections and gulping synths, is perfect fodder for a summer festival crowd, full of incandescent and goofy joy, while the title track leans so heavily into the sport-related double entendres that it might as well be a tennis ball served directly at your face. If it weren’t so exuberant with its New Orleans-like brass section and its tongue firmly in cheek, then it likely wouldn’t even be a quarter of the fun it is.

Against these sunny, sweaty moments are also ones for the comedown. Downbeat lead single “Original Sin” pulses with desire for connection (“So I think you’ve got something wrong with you / Something’s not right with me too”) as streetlights flicker through a car window, while “Sun Came Up” has all the bleary edges of a party that’s desperate to keep going despite the morning having arrived. Meanwhile, “Forgive Me” boasts Middle Eastern inflections (courtesy of Turkish DJ Mahmut Orhan) with its Hans Zimmer-esque synth whomps, mystical and perfumey strings, and simple, aching sentiments (“If it helps you carry on / Forgive me”). If the track were cut to a neat three minutes it would be perfect for the Eurovision stage.

While WET TENNIS might be club ready for the most part (even the pessimistic, minor key numbers here have thumping beats underpinning them), as a whole the album is actually a rather odd collection. There’s a 52 second interlude of just Hawley-Wild and a finger-picked electric guitar; a catchy ode of “Summer In New York” that sounds like the script of an advert from a tourist board; a heartless cover of “What A Wonderful World” that removes all the warmth Louis Armstrong originally brought; and the breakbeat-laden and superfluous “Freak”, which seems to exist solely for the hardcore fans alone. Amidst everything, even standout “Larry Bird” feels notably out of place, a banger included for the sake of sheer appeal as opposed to any thematic link to the surrounding material.

And as welcome as the additional voices on “Hold” and “Mon Cheri” are (featuring Adam of BOII and West African duo Amadou & Mariam respectively), the two longer songs back to back lumber the album’s b-side compared to the sharper more impressionable tracks at the front of the record. Sure, Sofi Tukker know how to ignite an atmosphere and be playful about it, but there’s a push and pull here considering how genuine they seem about their shallow, broken hearted laments (“A hurting hand / Is just connected to a hurting soul / It’s not your fault if you’re a hurting heart”).

The album title perhaps encapsulates it best: WET TENNIS is actually a nonsensical acronym from “Interlude” meaning “When Everyone Tries to Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe” and thankfully not some awful kind of slang for sex – apart from when they make it so in the title track. Sofi Tukker seem to stand upright and want you to take them seriously, but they are equally ready to pull the rug from under you and pawn off any earnest or credible analysis as a flippant joke. This is frivolous music best enjoyed as such. The trick to Sofi Tukker’s success is not to take them too seriously, even when they do so themselves.