Crack music. That’s what I think of “Perfected Steps”, the first song on Empty Seats, the first(!) EP by TOPS. Despite releasing their debut album over 10 years ago, the band sounds remarkably fresh here, resulting in the addictive opener, “Perfected Steps”. The song has a classic quality, building up to an ecstatic chorus, not unlike Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round”.
“Perfected Steps” accomplishes everything it needs to in about four minutes. But then, 30 seconds later, just when you think it might be overstaying its welcome, there’s that smooth-as-butter chord change, and it keeps going. A harmony-laden outro proves how they’ve sharpened their sound and songwriting over the years.
“Waiting” and “Party Again” were released last year and appear here. The latter is an almost mindless yearn for pre-COVID normalcy, a sort of indie rock “Bored in the House”. It probably wouldn’t work if it wasn’t so good musically. Another great example of just how damn catchy this band can be.
If there’s one criticism you can level at TOPS, it’s that they don’t switch-up their style too often. But that isn’t a detriment, and in fact suits the EP format quite well; 20 minutes of top TOPS is a welcome addition to any music collection.
This EP may as well be called Perfected Steps anyway, since “empty seats” is a line in that song. I think that if you go back to 2014’s Picture You Staring, this new record and I Feel Alive sound better. TOPS in the 2020s groove harder! The addition of keyboardist Marta in 2017 strengthened their sound, and Jane’s vocals have improved since their early years. Along with Men I Trust, TOPS stand out in the Montreal scene as one of the smoothest bands going. They’ve just released one of the best songs and best EPs of the year.