Tops are a quintessentially cool quartet from Canada. Though previous albums such as ‘Picture You Staring’ and ‘Sugar at The Gate’ have received critical acclaim, Tops still feel like Canada’s best kept secret; a true treat for those of us who have discovered this hidden gem. Their latest album, ‘I Feel Alive’, released on 3rd April, will surely shoot them to global stardom.
‘I Feel Alive’ is an 11 track triumph, the second release on the band’s label, Musique Tops. House Arrest distributed copies on vinyl, cassette tape and CD worldwide – vinyl limited editions included a coke-bottle clear press, my copy landing safely after a long journey from the USA the other week.
The album opens with the gleaming, ‘Direct Sunlight’, led by keys and synths accompanied by an irresistibly catchy drum beat and of course the vocal tones of Jane Penny, whose portrait makes for a beautifully simple album cover. As the track progresses, beaming sunshine and loud choruses mellow, as the sun fades and glimmers through trees, cooling off before an instrumental medley and a chance for Jane to play flute (the first of many welcome chances throughout the album).
Next up is the title track, ‘I Feel Alive’. It’s as if Fleetwood Mac threw a bouquet of attitude and style in blooms, and Tops caught it, cultivated it and made it their own. Jane Penny’s voice marries perfectly with warm guitar riffs and lyrical build ups. If you need any more convincing to check this track out, the accompanying video has Abba‘s artistry in droves – harking to ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ – and is filled with fluffy white bunnies.
By ‘Ballads & Sad Movies’, the sound has begun to trickle into the realm of 80s ballads. To be taken to different decades and genres throughout the album, yet retain the sense of how “Tops” they are is fantastic. It could be easy to become entranced with the mesmerising vocals from Penny throughout, but taking a step back to listen, you are reminded that musical craft is strung through every aspect songwriting here; skilful guitar, silky keys and carrying drums. This album does slow tracks as well as it does upbeat ones; ‘Take Down’ stripping almost everything back in a soft song of heartbreak.
Yesterday, the band uploaded a mini-series of a mix of studio diaries and studio versions of three tracks from the album. A must watch, the videos (with all the fuzzy charm that anyone could wish for) show the band at their natural best, and make it almost impossible not to idolise Jane, David, Marta and Riley.
I could break down every track and tell you why I love it, but truthfully, there is no simple way to explain why. Individually, the track list is impressive. As an album, astounding. My favourite track from this album changes daily, but ‘Drowning in Paradise’ is one which I find myself humming uncontrollably. ‘I Feel Alive’ is a girl sunbathing in a hidden beach cove of an evening, wearing 70s shades and a big floppy hat, drinking a cocktail, oozing cool and shot on Kodachrome.