TOPS Sugar at the Gate

TOPS Sugar at the Gate
8
Montreal's TOPS sound like they're ready for a club remix. This isn't to say that their decision to record their new album, Sugar at the Gate, at a former brothel in L.A. has inspired a shift toward electronica or the gaudy opulence of EDM — rather, it's the band's masterful awareness of space in their compositions and confident sense of restraint that leave their songs so open to re-imagination.
 
Opener "Cloudy Skies" makes you question your own expectations as its grayscale synth textures and offset guitar stabs seem to build towards the indie pop equivalent of a "drop." And though it never comes, it doesn't need to. Jane Penny's hazy vocals sit close to the front of the mix, creating a sense of intimacy within the songs' roomy arrangements. She carefully guides the listener through the band's melodic twists and turns before disappearing into the shadows.
 
Guitarist David Carriere took on a share of lyrical duties despite not contributing vocals. This duality results in contrasting and ironic thematic layers that shine through on songs like "Petals" and, particularly, "Cutlass Cruiser." The refrain, "Why'd you have to go and make illusion your friend? I can see him chasing you around your head," is garnished with a snarky followup: "You don't really think you look good, do you?"
 
Whether it's through a slow-motion swan dive like "Further" or the fuzzy home video-like quality of "Dayglow Bimbo," TOPS like to keep listeners on their toes. Their music is undeniably beautiful and, for all its subtleties, often immediately rewarding. (Arbutus)