Montreal-based record label and artistic community Arbutus Records has quietly carved itself quite the niche when it comes to thoughtful and singular left-field music. With a roster that includes the likes of BRAIDS, Doldrums, Blue Hawaii and Grimes, Arbutus Records has inadvertently fashioned part of the Montreal music scene in their image. With every release, they've managed to avoid any of the pitfalls that could ostensibly render their outputs faddish, and they've done so by allowing their artists to create whatever the hell they want to create, without any trend-chasing.
Picture You Staring, the latest release by Edmonton-via-Montreal four-piece TOPS, is a prime example. There's always been an underlying trend within music criticism to praise the inaccessible, the obtuse, and the unpalatable, as somehow "better," but sometimes you just want to listen to music that is pleasant and effortless, and TOPS do so with aplomb, without ever catering to the lowest common denominator. Instead, they craft pop music that feels timeless, as if lifted straight from a '60s movie soundtrack. Picking standouts is a difficult feat, as favourites are apt to change with every listen: album opener "Way To Be Loved" tricks you into expecting some tUnE-yArDs weirdness, and "Driverless Passenger" lulls you into melancholy until it devolves into Lynchian despair. And while Picture You Staring can fall into "too same-y" territory at times, the same could be said about other releases by singular-sounding bands such as CULTS, Best Coast and Tennis; not bad company to be in. (Arbutus)