Montreal indie four-piece Tops are the latest export from Canada, but while their music may not be anything out of the ordinary, they are not your conventional band. In fact, their label-mate Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, recently said: “Tops are a bunch of weirdos, and I say this in the most affectionate way possible.” What it is that makes them so different is not quite clear, but there is an element of mystery about the quartet that is unmistakable.
Indeed, the album cover for their debut record, entitled Tender Opposites – which shows the four surrounded by smoke – only accentuates their aloofness. There is a certain distance to their sound, too, reveling in lo-fi ’70s and ’80s pop music. Yet, while Tops’ debut LP is another record to add to the long list of those paying tribute to past musical adventures, it does so in a way that sounds unique to them.
The indie scene in Montreal has been strong for years now – including one of the best bands in the world in Arcade Fire – and with Tender Opposites, Tops are further proof of the impressive array of artists coming from Canada’s second largest city. The album kicks off with the expansive, ethereal keys of Evening and lead vocalist Jane Penny’s dainty vocals. The metronomic drumming and quirky guitar riff only add further layers to the dreamy opener, one that sets the stall out for what is to come.
She’s So Bad follows a similar formula, with shimmering keys joined by an effervescent guitar melody, while Penny’s lighter than air vocal is enchanting. Yes, it may be introverted and it is no surprise that the dreaded ‘hipster’ tag has been assigned to Tops more than once, but it’s also very well executed.
The best example of Tops’ ability to construct breezy and glittering melodies, capable of ensnaring you in their dreamy soundscape, is the fascinating six-minute plus Double Vision. It’s Claire Boucher’s favourite song on the record and it’s not hard to see why – the wandering keys and cutesy vocals are immersive as the track continues at the same pace for entirety of its running time. Easy Friends is another perfect lullaby, especially if you’re looking for something to really relax to, with beautiful harmonies and a slow, meandering guitar riff.
Some have made comparisons between Tops and Fleetwood Mac and although the former are unlikely to ever achieve anywhere near the same status as the latter, it is not a wildly inaccurate comparison. Diamond Look, the band’s current single, verges more on soft-rock as Penny sings “Starlight/ star-bright/ like a diamond in the sky” – seemingly taking aim at a ‘pretty boy’. Go Away is another highlight, with a big chorus and catchy riff, while first single Turn Your Love Around has grittier instrumentation than anything else on the record.
Tender Opposites is undoubtedly a solid, cohesive and enjoyable first album from the Montreal band, but whether they will go on to achieve as much success as Grimes is yet to be seen. They certainly lack the experimental darkness of their label-mate and while Tender Opposites is good, it’s by no means groundbreakingly good. Penny’s vocal evolves from a dreamy whisper to just plain whinny on Vii Babies, while instrumental closer Tops Theme feels like a directionless, throwaway jam. But on the whole, there are more hits than misses on Tender Opposites. Tops display enough potential on their first outing to suggest there’s still a lot more to come from the quartet in the future.