by Ryan Haughey
Hailing from Montreal, Tops is sharper than ever on their fourth full-length album titled I Feel Alive. The record really does come to life — even in its most mellow moments the album is vibrant with colourfully chorused guitars and bewitching vocals. The energy in the band’s performance on each track feels so animated and so close that it’s as if they’re performing right on the other side of my speakers.
With bubbly pop-sensibilities, Tops creates and explores a lush soundscape with synthesized foliage popping up at every turn. Tops imbues great care into the composition of each song and then abandons all caution for its performance.
The first track, “Direct Sunlight,” features a clean Rhodes keyboard that drives the bass and drums at a bound, while crystal synth stabs ring with delay on every bounce. It’s impossible not to lose yourself in singer Jane Penney’s flute solo as it replaces the main vocals in the final chorus and leads to an expressive breakdown to close out the opening track.
Penney’s vocal performance is just as expressive throughout the album, showing range not only in pitch but in timbre as well, flipping on a dime from a soft and gentle whisper to a reaching, operatic depth. On tracks like the album singles “I Feel Alive” and “Witching Hour” you can hear the slightest cracks in the vocal hooks, intentionally filled with heart and soul.
“Colder & Closer” takes a more straightforward pop approach on the main hook, which is underlined by more flute and counterbalanced by rhythmic synths that carry on through the verses. One of the only ballads on the record, “Take Down” is woeful with heartbreak, voices echoing in the background and foreground, the former floating in reverb, the latter dryly pressed down, both questioning a love that has passed.
The final track, “Too Much,” is a nostalgic slow bop with vintage ‘80s synthesizer tones that roll over and over, conjuring images of the aftermath of a late-night party — streamers flattened to the ground by a raucous stomping now gone and deflating silver balloons floating near the knees of a few slow dancers still swaying on the dancefloor with Tops still ringing in their ears.