For Sofi Tukker, positivity is more a lifestyle than a buzzword. It’s hard to believe that four years have elapsed since the Florida-based duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern released their joyous and eclectic debut album.
Whatever growth they have done in the intervening years has clearly done little to dampen the powerful sense of optimism that they have now brought to their sophomore release, WET TENNIS (★★★★☆).
The title is even technically an acronym for “When everyone tries to evolve, nothing negative is safe.” Much like the album itself, it’s unexpected, almost unbelievably sincere, a little absurd, and probably wouldn’t sound right had it come from anyone other than Sofi Tukker.
WET TENNIS clocks in at just 35 minutes, its 12 tracks coming in rapid succession as if lobbed from a ball launcher. In that brief runtime, Sofi Tukker is able to create an album of dance tracks in which each feel wholly unique, of a piece with the one that came before it, but a completely distinct, self-contained world that flashes in and out of existence.
On every track, they make their point and move on with ruthless efficiency, never lingering in place a moment longer than needed. The mileage they get out of the album’s short runtime is doubly impressive for how much they are able to cram into it.
Sofi Tukker has created an album that is far bigger than themselves, sampling and borrowing from a dizzying array of styles and genres as they did on their debut album, lapsing fluidly at points between Portuguese and English.
Their sense of riotous fun is on full display in the high-energy opener “Kakee” and the fun and shamelessly fun and flirty title track. The infectious and downright wacky “Larry Bird” cheekily nods to Halpern’s own past as a basketball player, and brings on his own father to do the voiceovers.
Elsewhere, tracks like “Hold” or the stellar “Original Sin” find them indulging some more sober and reflective feelings, bolstered by otherworldly vocal work from Hawley-Weld.
“Mon Cheri,” one of the most uplifting and affecting tracks, gets an assist and a dose of gravitas from the Malian duo Amadou and Mariam, whose voices and guitars all but make the song their own, with Sofi Tukker more than happy to play support.
Sofi Tukker excels at smoothly integrating the various sounds and influences that went into WET TENNIS, although one of the album’s quirkier moments comes on “Summer in New York,” where they make a bold choice to deliver their own take on “Tom’s Diner.” Borrowing one of the single most infuriatingly catchy hooks is a strange choice, and to their credit, it mostly works.
They do their level best to work the melodic riff into the pace of their own song and make it their own, repurposing it in the service of a fast-paced and glamorous romp through the city. Even so, “Tom’s Diner” exerts a powerful pull and that hook ends up dominating the song, trying to balance between fresh and familiar but ultimately slanting far more in the direction of familiar.
Given that “Summer in New York” is such a close swing and miss, it is surprising how deftly they carry off their rendition of “What a Wonderful World.” The temptation to stay true to the spirit of a beloved and iconic song is often strong, but Sofi Tukker are savvy enough to understand that a faithful cover would have sounded at best like a tribute and at worst like a pale imitation.
So they do it their own way, keeping one foot in the dance party they’ve just thrown over the past eleven tracks while turning out a hypnotic, angsty version of the song that would probably have perplexed and unsettled Louis Armstrong and making it a singularly a memorable cover in the process.
WET TENNIS is one of those rare dance records that is consistently exhilarating but never exhausting. A whirlwind journey through Hawley-Weld and Halpern’s minds, it exudes joy and ambition throughout.
Even more so than their stellar debut, they set high expectations on nearly every track, and then proceed to exceed them with a deep professionalism and attention to detail just underneath the manic, free-wheeling vibe. WET TENNIS throws everything it has at you, leaving you both dazzled and deeply satisfied, hardly believing that so much can exist simultaneously in one record.
WET TENNIS is available to purchase and stream now.
Their current world tour comes to the 9:30 Club on May 21 and 22, but both dates are sold out. Visit www.sofitukker.com/tour to join the waitlist.
Follow the band on Twitter at @sofitukker.
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