TOPS I Feel Alive

TOPS I Feel Alive
To listen to TOPS' discography — from 2012 debut Tender Opposites to their sparkling fourth record I Feel Alive — is to hear a band settle into a sound. The Montreal quartet have been honing their winking vintage pop for nearly a decade, and their latest feels like the inevitable arrival — it's cleaner, brighter and catchier than most anything in their back catalogue.
The fuzz that coated 2017's gently corroded Sugar at the Gate has been scrubbed away — every surface on I Feel Alive shines, tossing light across the room. The band lean further into their throwback soft-rock sound, committing fully to the spell cast by Jane Penny's warmly nostalgic soprano. There's nothing here as strange as grimy Sugar at the Gate highlight "Topless"I Feel Alive plays like an attempt to deconstruct Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy" and build a record from the pieces, all liquid glimmer and wistful yearning. The Fleetwood Mac association comes through more clearly than on any of their previous records — a dog barks throughout "Drowning in Paradise" à la "Tusk," while the chimes that introduce closer "Too Much" are straight out of "Everywhere."
It's a playful record, crafted from a decidedly summery palette and a commitment to the sugar-rush of solid pop-craft. Lyrically, it's traditional TOPS fare — Penny and guitarist David Carriere tend to mine classic pop narratives, keeping things teasingly romantic and giddily love-struck. The familiarity of the lyrics fits well with their newly clarified sound, though it would be a refreshing change of pace should the band decide to say something more, to spike the '70s prom punch with a little danger.
Unsurprisingly, the mood becomes somewhat repetitive, though it's more a testament to the record's consistent prettiness than a lack of memorable hooks. The title track in particular begs to be replayed — simply constructed compared to the rest of the record's lush layers, it's a perfected piece of pop rock. TOPS have managed to distill their sound to its essence, and I Feel Alive feels like the best representation of the softer side of their music. It's a pleasurable, sun-drenched record — the work of a band who've found their voice, louder and clearer than before. (Independent)