TOPS // Tender Opposites // October 1 // Arbutus
Back in 2010 I couldn’t help myself but make punchlines about Canadian music scene who felt way too concerned with how they look, way too serious and way too boring. Two years in the future and somehow places like Montreal and Toronto are the capitals for young talent who know how to write a fun song. TOPS come from the latter and mix the two worlds by knowing how to have fun, vintage style. Their debut LP is a short collection of backwards looking new wave revivalist songs that unsurprisingly makes sense when placed in the present day.
TOPS don’t even claim to aim for the glory. They seem to happy to sound like the backing band to Ariel Pink or anyone who has been exploiting nostalgia for their music during the last decade. Tender Opposites is flawlessly unpolished and has a garage written feel to it which, with its faults and all is rare to find nowadays when producers aim for shit sound quality on purpose while recording on their brand new MacBooks. It’s hard not to raise an eyebrow when seeing all of TOPS low quality promo pictures, VHS quality videos and dodgy lo-fi quality of the music but at least they’re one of those bands that do this fully and make you forget that you’re actually listening to them in 2012, on your MacBook. Tender Opposites is an album that knows what it wants to sound like and luckily isn’t that obvious when it comes to wearing the influences on its sleeves. Just like Ariel Pink, Geneva Jacuzzi, Twin Sister and countless other lo-fi pop artists TOPS melt the late 70s / early 80s aesthetic from everything that sounds like hazy sunset on a Cali beach. Moroder synths, best bits of Blondie’s brattiest singles and GTA Vice City soundtrack are turned into something that has some appeal thanks to the fashionable vintage pop oriented songwriting.
Even better is that TOPS don’t just take one particular sound from one particular band on genre and run away with it. Tender Opposites sounds like it could’ve been recorded by a fictional early 80s supergroup. Guitars are clear and jangly, synthesisers are gushing colour and warm glue while vocals sound fierce, a female left over of the post-punk movement. It’s all sparkly and fun but there are some clear problems that come from being a young band with a sound that is not totally their own. Safe to say that TOPS are making pop music, but the songs on Tender Opposites lack hooks, badly. The soundscapes on here show rich details and attention to songwriting but in the end it feels like it’s a record by a great singles band with no singles on it. At 33 minutes it’s not what one would call a long record but the lack of interesting ideas in the later half of the record makes it rather a chore to get through. A lot of the charm to the band comes from them perfecting the aesthetic and looking/sounding like an actual band lost in time that you discovered just now. Whether that charm can be sustained is the question as even the best songs on the first half of the record lose some of their power thanks to the lack of strong melodies or captivating decisions.
The band themselves are looking like one of those hip bands that are too bored to show off personality and pop music strives on the personality of the performer. Tender Opposites is a pleasant enough late night neon soaked listen that won’t have you reaching for the eject button. Then again that might also be just because you won’t even notice it playing in the background.