Three albums in and you think you know someone. We’ve been ever so smitten with TOPS since we’ve been acquainted with them, and it’s largely thanks to the dreamy indie insouciance they bring to a genre that is so weighed down by the worthiness of bands.
And while Sugar At The Gate might sound like more of that sweet spot, it sees the Montreal crew emerge further out of the shadows and adopt a tone that doesn’t quite fit right. Vocalist Jane Penny is more open than ever on the sparse opener Cloudy Skies, and if anything the absence of that joie de vivre results in something way more plodding than they’ve ever done.
Further has the right kind of weight, but it’s very clear that TOPS’ emotional kitestrings have been cut. Which a shame, because that sun-flecked indie makes such a warm return on Petals, filling the room with their old-school charm. And then we’re back floating in dreamwave, shoegaze limbo on Marigold & Gray, failing to impart a depth that its slow tempo ought.
This may sound like we’re not expecting TOPS to grow. We are, and we’re glad they’re trying out this new side. But Sugar At The Gate passes by so unremarkably that it’s hard to work out who its audience is. TOPS fans may find themselves alienated in the go-nowhere numbers like Cutlass Cruiser and Hours Between, and newcomers will have switched off long before then. Forgive us for being salty, but we’ll definitely leave this spoon of sugar at the gate.