TOPS "I Feel Alive" LP (2020)
Details: TOPS fourth full-length album released on the band's own label. Comes on clear 'coke bottle' vinyl, sealed. Recorded in Montreal and Berlin.
Description: "Montréal four-piece TOPS has been creating its brand of off-kilter AM radio pop for three albums now. I Feel Alive is a deeper refinement of that sound. The hooks are large, and lead singer Jane Penny’s vocals are bolder than ever. The band plays with just enough of an experimental touch to add a modern twist to its vintage pop sound.
The title track finds a great middle-ground between Fleetwood Mac and Ariel Pink’s off-kilter jangly pop. Its chorus is the best earworm moment on the album, and Penny’s vocal is arresting throughout. Couple that with some addicting guitar work, and you have the undisputed pop highlight of the album. While the other tracks don’t boast hooks quite as massive, “OK Fine Whatever” and “Witching Hour” both are eminently catchy as well.
The album also leans into some chilled synth-pop. “Ballads & Sad Movies” see Penny taking on a breathy delivery backed by the great combo of chilly synths and warm guitar licks. This approach breaks into 1980s synth textures while also revealing a more intimate side of the band. It’s a change to the band’s usual formula, but it is by no means an unwelcome one.
Although the band clearly isn’t afraid of pop hooks, TOPS also incorporate moments of experimentation that give the band its own identity. Opener “Direct Sunlight” has an inspired flute solo that adds a lot of flavor to the track. Penny’s flute is a more significant element here which she attributes to the band recording for the first time with live keyboardist Marta Cikojevic. Penny says in the album’s bio: “Having Marta manning the keys allowed me to reach for my flute and gave me the chance to integrate my flute playing with the writing process, using it as an expressive instrument rather than more production element which it has been in the past.”
The band also plays with some synth sequencing with “Colder & Closer,” giving the song a cool sheen and bolstering the paranoia in the opening lyrics. These subtle changes to the TOPS formula help I Feel Alive come off as an expansion of the band’s sonic palette.
The quality does take a bit of a drop on the second half of the album. The slower tracks such as “Take Down” and the closer “Too Much” break the momentum of the LP, and are missing some of the sharp grooves and catchiness that make the first half shine. While not bad, they fall a bit on the forgettable side. Overall though, the album has a lot more hits than misses.
Consistency has been the name of the game for TOPS. I Feel Alive certainly doesn’t change that. Those that are already fans of TOPS’ charming and hooky pop songs won’t find much to disappoint here. What’s more, the album does expand the band’s sound in some subtle ways. Everything that makes the band great is still here and if you’re looking for some fun vintage pop you can’t go wrong with I Feel Alive." - Caleb Campbell, Under The Radar
Grade: M (new stock)
TRACK LISTING SIDE A:
1. Direct Sunlight
2. I Feel Alive
4. Ballads & Sad Movies
5. Colder & Closer
TRACK LISTING SIDE B:
1. Witching Hour
2. Take Down
3. Drowning In Paradise
4. OK Fine Whatever
5. Looking To Remember
6. Too Much