Tops: I Feel Alive (coloured vinyl) LP
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The artwork for Tops' fourth LP sets the tone for the music enclosed. Inspired by the work of photographer Thomas Ruff, Tops vocalist Jane Penney stares bare-faced down the lens – simple and un-posed, yet striking with starkness and vulnerability. The image captures the fraught nature of being alive, which the 11 tracks on the album explore. Penny's remarkably expressive voice is front and center. On this record more than any other, she sings with passion and energy, without sacrificing the honesty and introspection that gives her voice its depth. The songs cover a range of experiences but at it's heart I Feel Alive is a record about resilience, the ways we can grow from for our pain and the strength that comes from learning to stand on your own as an individual.
I Feel Alive is Tops' fourth full-length, following 2017's Sugar At The Gate and follows singles "Echo of Dawn" and "Seven Minutes" from 2019. Their trademark sound of beguiling melodies over soft-rock grooves, with touches of '80s sophisti-pop and a contemporary experimental palette is intact, but bolder and more expansive. The songs manage to be both immediately catchy and deceptively deep, with Penny's literary lyrics adding an extra dimension to the pure pop hooks. Satisfying yet far from predictable, this is a record to be savored, revealing itself slowly, gaining power and poignancy with each listen.
Title track "I Feel Alive" is a bracing pop gem with darker undertones. An ode to new love, Penny sings "I feel alive looking in your eyes" with the exuberance that comes with the early stages of romance, the discovery of a deep love. But love is complicated, and within the joy and happiness is the pain of leaving someone else behind. "Colder and Closer" is a sonic departure, with programmed synths and metallic drumming, the song shimmers. A tribute to seeking meaning in an increasingly confusing world Penny sings "Searching constellations/seeing if the stars align." But she doesn't take comfort in the stars, rejecting fate as something arbitrary, though not quite meaningless.
Beneath the soaring melodies and crisp production, I Feel Alive balances the giddiness of a new relationship with the agony of leaving old things behind. It's an introspective record that you can dance to, music that hits in an immediate rush but sticks around, lingering like the memory of a perfect doomed love affair-both the joy and the pain, until it becomes a part of your life forever.