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Album Review: TOPS’ Picture You Staring

By Pat Gunther

Montreal based band TOPS is one of the premiere Canadian acts to come out of the great white north since Mac DeMarco and Sean Nicholas Savage. Comprised of front woman and keyboardist/vocalist Jane Penny, guitarist David Carriere, drummer Riley Fleck and newcomer-bassist Madeline Glowicki, TOPS serves up some dreamy and funky pop that is sure to get you grooving. The thin guitar work and 80s inspired synths with a modern day chillwave touch on their latest LP, Picture You Staring, creates a deeply textured and supremely catchy sound that feels straight out of 1988.

Here’s why this record rocks.

Eclectic Influences 

The record’s first track and lead single, “Way To Be Loved,” serves as an absolutely captivating track that grabs you by the collar from the get go. Penny’s seductive vocals couple with languid, ambient guitar licks create a cut that provides you with a chorus that can’t possibly leave your head for the rest of you day. As the LP progresses, TOPS blends 80s synth pop, modern indie rock and a touch of early ‘90s electronica to create an irresistible and layered playful love ballad.

Sunny Synth Work

Akin to acts like Beach House or Ducktails, TOPS washes the record with synth work that feels like a sunny day, and sweet, hushed vocals from the multi talented Penny create an atmospheric and spacey record that keeps you hooked on every track along the way.

A Modern Touch

The fourth cut, “Outside” reminds me of a Cyndi Lauper inspired track that would be in the 2014 remake of The Breakfast Club. The sixth, and personal favorite track of mine, “Sleeptalker” is a powerful jazz inspired ode that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is also one of their more mature cuts off of the record. Throughout the album, TOPS offers a selection of groovy tracks that perfectly encapsulate their contagious fun.

Infectious Sound

“2 Shy”, the shining example of that infectious sound, remains consistent with the feel and sound of the record, and sets the tone for the more upbeat second half od the album. The following track, “Change Of Heart,” is an anthem reminiscent to a cheesy 80s movie that’s set in Las Vegas. The next three tracks, which all exceed three minutes each, paint an oily and acrylic picture with the gliding guitar and sexy bass line akin to their album cover to close out the record.

An Airy Adventure

All in all, the second LP from TOPS is an incredibly airy and smooth adventure that leaves you with funky little numbers splattered throughout the 12-track affair. The synth pop weirdoes continually draw on their influences from childhood, while maintaining that perfectly Montreal sound stemming from the group’s birthplace in the band Silly Kissers with Sean Nicholas Savage. Though certain tracks get tired after multiple listens, the first few times listening to Picture You Staring is a velvety journey that yields one of the best synth pop records of 2014, in my opinion.

Favorite Tracks: “Way To Be Loved”, “Outside”, “Driverless Passenger”, “Destination”

Least Favorite Tracks: “All The People Sleep”, “Blind Faze”

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