TOPS 'I Feel Alive'

Indie-rock band TOPS explores a retro sound on “I Feel Alive,” which features smooth rhythms and catchy, imagery-laced lyrics.

Almost three years since the indie rock band’s last album release, TOPS released “I Feel Alive” on April 3, maintaining the indie band’s alternative sound while exploring ‘80s-inspired themes.

TOPS, formed in 2011 in Montreal, released their first studio album, “Tender Oppositions,” in 2012. On “I Feel Alive,” the band incorporates pop elements from their last studio album, “Sugar at the Gate,” with some new experimentation with rock elements.

Quick in rhythm, “Direct Sunlight,” the album’s first track, layers whimsical vocals with eccentric synths, all complementing a funky bass line. The lyrics, “Get a load of that sunshine in your life,” created the perfect imagery to match the track’s groovy production.

“I Feel Alive,” the album’s second track, showcases wide-ranging vocals from the band’s lead singer, Jane Penny. This track, incorporating more guitar, drums and backup vocals, sounds significantly more rock-influenced than the previous track.

“Pirouette,” the album’s third track, has a catchy chorus and pairs gentle vocals with simple production that sounds mundane compared to the rest of the album. Just before the track’s end is a laser-beam sound effect that at first was jarring, but ultimately added charm to the track.

“Ballads & Sad Movies,” the album’s fourth track, sounds ‘80s-inspired, incorporating ballad-like vocals and a slow rhythm. This track reminded me of Nancy Kerrigan and Steve Harrington’s love story on the first season of Stranger Things- delicate and slow building.

The album’s fifth track, “Colder & Closer,” has a melodic rhythm that felt very soothing, making it my favorite track on the album. The lyrics, “Searching constellations // Seeing if the stars align,” reflect the same sense of wonder I experienced while listening to the track.

“Witching Hour,” the album’s sixth track, has a bolder vocal tone and more developed songwriting than the rest of the album. I enjoyed the imagery of the lyrics, “I’m missing something // When I’m in your arms,” which painted a picture of finding oneself unfulfilled in a relationship.

“Take Down,” the album’s seventh track, felt slow-paced and groovy, layering two vocal styles that transition back and forth, creating what sounds like Penny’s inner dialogue. The lyrics, “So clear to me now // Echo through the final days // You were thinking about somebody else,” describe what realizing your partner is cheating might be like.

The album’s eighth track, “Drowning in Paradise,” is carefree and upbeat, with fast-paced drums, high-pitched synths and tasteful backup vocals. I enjoyed the guitar solo from the band’s guitarist, David Carriere, who fingerpicked an upbeat melody that gave the track a light feel.

“OK Fine Whatever,” the album’s angsty-sounding ninth track, uses dramatic synths and mellow vocals to make a minimalist sound that reflects the track’s title.

“Looking to Remember,” the album’s tenth track, initially sounds the most modern but quickly reverts back to the album’s ‘80s inspired, ballad-type theme. I enjoyed the lyrics “Face in the mirror // Tell me who you really see there.” Self-image can be difficult to process.

The album’s final track, “Too Much,” sounded very similar to the rest of the slower tracks on the album, incorporating the same slow drum with relaxed vocals. I thought the album should have ended on an upbeat note similar to that of the first track, “Direct Sunlight.”

Overall, I enjoyed the cohesiveness of the overarching ‘80s theme throughout “I Feel Alive.” Although I wish there was a little more variation in sound throughout the album, it was ultimately refreshing to listen to. I am curious to see if – and how – TOPS will transform in sound over the years to come.

Raegan Holland is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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