by Ryan Haughey
Montreal’s sweetheart band TOPS builds on their already sparkling discography with their most recent EP, Empty Seats. After their previous full-length record, we’ve come to expect their usual driven, bubbly pop style – and on Empty Seats, the band delivers. But it’s never tired or recycled. All five songs hold something new to discover for TOPS in both storytelling and composition.
For example, opening track, “Perfected Steps,” lays back in the groove like a yacht rock classic. Rhodes ring out a hopeful progression as the bass and drums set the pace of this drive in a top-down convertible. The guitar is like wind blowing through your hair, providing counter melodies to the smooth vocals. “Perfected Steps,” tells a story of a burnt-out star singer, giving the audience enough to go on to follow along, yet enough space to fill in the space between the lyrics with imagination when the bar sounds of clinking glasses and low chatter chime in. The guitar flutters down the melody, matching the backing vocals as they sing, “The more you want, the more you miss, the more you wish that you had it.”
Rubbery synth waves launch us into “Janet Planet,” and the groove continues. TOPS vocalist and flutist Jane Penny has a way of seamlessly swerving in and out of lyrical rhythms, placing the puzzle-piece lyrical phrases with ease. By the first chorus, these technically placed syllables feel natural to the listener. Gleaming keyboard parts give the hook a soft, crystal-like edge. “Waiting,” the EP’s third track pulls us up onto the dance floor with a near-disco-type drumbeat. The lead guitar flows like a ribbon through the air, hitting all the melodic phrases throughout the chorus. When the time comes for a guitar solo, the backing vocals mimic the guitar solo as it bends and throws.
On the 80’s power ballad “Party Again,” synths and keyboards drive the beat forward through the hook – “I just can’t live without hope.” This love song is hopeful yet cynical. “This must be some kind of joke.” This struggle between outlooks is complemented by the upbeat pull of the keys and guitar. This tune again reminisces in a glossy 80’s pop filter, of course, groovy as ever.Finally, “Future Waits” bookends Empty Seats with a dramatic call out to smokey rooms and broken costume jewellery. Icy Rhodes stabs through the smoke while the vocals softly flicker amongst the soft wall of pink harmonies. “The future waits for no one.” Longingly, TOPS reaches back into the past, but there is nothing to grab onto. Time is an unending force, flowing ever forward. What does the future hold for this band? Probably more great music like this.