By Amber McLinden
The release of TOPS sophomore album Picture You Staring set a tone for the Montreal band, and as Sugar at the Gate comes out, it is clear that they don’t intend to fully stray from that path. Yet that’s what makes the newest release great – TOPS has found their niche and they’re playing to it.
While the group has previously been criticized for their simplicity, which you can still find present in this album, it doesn’t take away from their sound. In fact, simple works in their favour, allowing them to experiment in the boundaries they’ve set for themselves without trying to tread into territory too unfamiliar. The dream pop trio have said they had more space to make music in Sugar at the Gate than previous work, and it shows.
“Living in L.A. was living out a teenage fantasy, living with your band and practicing in the garage,” vocalist Jane Penny said in a statement accompanying the album. “It was also the first time we’ve ever had that much space to make music. I took the experience of living in L.A. as a challenge to make music that I know is real to me, in the sense of it feeling true and containing true feelings, but also recordings of great songs, the real thing.”
Without running too far off course, tracks like single “Dayglow Bimbo” and “Marigold & Gray,” bring listeners into new territory mid-album, with the former being upbeat, featuring an intro touching on experimental elements, and the latter running much slower and more drawling than previous work. Much like Picture You Staring, the album is a breeze front-to-back, with infrequent interruptions to surprise listeners with something new. It’s not an album of daring moments, but fortunately, it works for the best.
The album grows better with each listen, as slow understanding reveals that the often upbeat and happy tunes are riddled with raw emotion. Most of the LP caters to TOPS fans, with songs like “Petals” acting as refreshing, but still familiar tunes.
With dreamy atmosphere, Jane Penny’s outstandingly strong vocals, and instrumentals that step slightly outside of their comfort zone, TOPS has delivered an assured album that shows a band perfecting their trademark sound and only beginning to explore new possibilities. Sugar at the Gate is a testament to TOPS talent, while also presenting a band that’s skills have grown exponentially, while still leaving listeners wanting more.Arbutus Records, Sugar At The Gate, TOPS