There’s a new face on the indie scene promenade, several in fact. Montreal-based TOPS have just released a new album as fizzy and drinkable as champagne with a Percocet. Sugar at the Gate is their third album and was signed by Arbutus Records, the folks responsible for signing the quick rising indie-tronic band Grimes.
TOPS broke out in 2014 with a smooth crowd-pleaser “Way To Be Loved” on their album Picture You Staring that might even get your grandma on the dance floor. TOPS manage to balance 70s-esque strumming patterns thanks to David Carriere’s catchy guitar riffs with perfectly intentioned drums in stapled rock beats and shuffles by Riley Fleck. Ultra cool arrangements on keyboard add to the concoction.
But the cherry on the sparkly unicorn sundae, though, is Jane Penny’s life-altering voice that is both sweet and smoky as tender, falling-off-the-bone ribs.
Many of the tracks on Sugar at the Gate are sultry and slow, save for their catchy track “Petals” that has deliberate guitar riffs and sing-along potential reminiscent of 70s pop.
The rare moments Penny reveals the force of her voice are precious gems. Most of the album’s vocals are like honey; easy to take, pure amber sweetness.
Since the band’s inception in 2011 they have developed a craftsman like dedication to developing their sound and individual artistic skills. TOPS just launched a national and international tour where Penny surprised a crowd of youthful Orange County residents by playing (while drenched in purple lights) a few songs on the flute, her “one [true] love” in high school as she described for TheLineofBestFit.com.
I would never be at the point that I’m at musically if it weren’t for the commitment from my band, the time spent with them and the ability to observe and take part in the way they make music,” Penny also said of her peers.
Nothing is over indulgent about the band and their chemistry is evident. Though Sugar is impossibly chill, its consistency reveals the band’s commitment to tight fluid tracks and forming a distinct sound that makes you feel like you can lean on them. In performance, no ego triumphed over the other. In the struggle to make creative sacrifices for the sake of the band, this is one marriage that is ardent and unfaltering in its love. Penny makes peace with these sacrifices to The Line of Best Fit by writing,
You cannot identify yourself with your ideas as a musician because you often have to throw them away.”
It appears that for TOPS, the sum is greater than its parts.
Sugar at the Gate repeats the title tradition from their previous album Picture You Staring. Both albums are named from a thread of lyric picked out of arguably the best track on the album. “Marigold and Gray” on Sugar is notable for wistful, romantic lyrics crooned in Penny’s breathy voice paired perfectly with silver steel guitar.
Dreamy and retro as glow in the dark stars on a ceiling, TOPS’ new album is romantic, young, and effervescent. The band maintains that they’re production is largely self-made and they’re experimentation shows they’re onto something: the vintage-ness of the lo-fi quality make it feel like an old, much-loved record. At the same time,
Sugar at the Gate is undeniably modern and hopeful in a way that excites a listener for future tracks from this youthful band. Bring on the smoke, synth, and sex that make TOPS so good.