Last Saturday night, WCFM treated the school to a free concert featuring the up-and-coming band TOPS. An indie band from Montreal, TOPS packed a surprising punch as they performed in Greylock Hall in an event co-sponsored by College Council, Currier, Wood and Spencer Neighborhoods and All-Campus Entertainment (ACE). It was a fantastic opportunity to enjoy some new music and to let loose for a bit: Many in the audience found themselves dancing to the eclectic and oddly ethereal songs that TOPS had in store.
The band is composed of Jane Perry on vocals and keyboards, David Carriere on guitar, Tom Gillies on bass and Riley Fleck on drums. Their sound can best be described as a mix between electronica, synth pop and indie pop. Their songs are almost trance-like: Jane Perry’s vocals were piercing as they rang through the space, and Carriere and Gillies complemented her melodically. When they began performing their first song, several people in the audience immediately commented on her unique voice (in a positive way, of course). This first impression was a good sign of things to come. Riley Fleck’s drums provided an upbeat pacing to the songs which complemented the vocals, but also added a mesmeric quality all their own. Within the first few minutes everyone was full-out dancing to the beat under the colorful strobe lights.
TOPS’ first full-length album, Tender Opposites, was written and recorded by the band and was released in February 2012. They are currently signed under Arbutus Records, which describes TOPS as “somewhere alongside contemporary bands who, taking the best aspects of pop music and the organic approach that comes from playing together, makes something that sounds fresh; distilling influences into something that is innovative in the present moment.” TOPS has been reviewed by The Guardian, with music reviewer Paul Lester describing the band as possessing a “jazziness to the choppy guitar chords and keyboard sounds … a certain blue note struck that stays with you, that haunts,” [“TOPS (No. 1310),” The Guardian, July 17, 2012]. Indeed, haunting is certainly an apt word for several of the songs from Tender Opposites, in particular “Evening” and “Rings of Saturn.” These start off slow, and like several of their other songs, you may not realize you’re being drawn in by the unconventional sound for the first minute or so – it’s definitely a style you have to open yourself up to in order to fully enjoy.
How did the band translate “haunting” into a danceable Saturday-night performance? By delivering a lot of energy. Even at their most wistful and gossamer they were never lacking in oddly catchy tunes in which it was easy to get lost.
Songs such as “Diamond Look” and “Double Vision” echo dance and synth music from the 80s, blending dream-like melodies with almost methodical and hypnotic beats, and several of their songs incorporated exciting drops that kept the sound fresh and engaging. Their music would not seem at all out of place next to that of bands and artists Desire, Kavinsky, College and Chromatics on the Drive soundtrack (“Real Hero,” anyone?). TOPS’ songs from Tender Opposites are all available online for all those out there who didn’t get to make it to the concert, and of course, for those of us who want to continue listening.
The short performance lasted about an hour, as TOPS performed all the songs from their album, leaving the audience hungry for more – many called for an encore, to which Perry responded playfully that they’d already given us all they had. I’m sure many are now eagerly awaiting new music from the band and to see where TOPS is heading next – they actually gave us first-ever performances of two new songs, neither of which is on their album.
For now, we’ll have to make do and content ourselves with what we have: I highly recommend “Easy Friends” and “Diamond Look,” two of their catchiest tunes which really capture TOPS’ unique sound and style.