Tops - I Feel Alive

Brock Splawski
April 3, 2020
[indie pop]

We both know life has become quite difficult. I don’t think I need to explain it much further. I want to stop talking about it and stop thinking about it and stop worrying about it, but the longer I stay at home, the harder it is to ignore.

It’s nice to hear a record that seems so unconcerned about the current crisis. Obviously, TOPS did not have much of a choice on this during the recording of I Feel Alive but their breezy indie pop confections are a welcome distraction from the current situation. The band sets the mood with nice production and a breathy vocal delivery from its lead, Jane Penny. Being their fourth album, you can hear the progress being made up to this point. This album is TOPS at their most focused, and it’s their most consistent work as a result.

At the same time, though, I wonder if I like this album more because of the environment I’m in rather than the music itself. It’s a pleasant antidote, but I Feel Alive doesn’t really do anything to stand out aside from its opener “Direct Sunlight” and its lovely flute solo. The band checks a lot of boxes off a trendy sound, with its flanged guitars and washed-out synthesizers. Even the vocals sound eerily similar to other AM-pop bands like Tennis. I can’t say I’m surprised or even disappointed, because I never had particularly lofty expectations for TOPS to begin with. They glide by inoffensively as a band on this album like they always have. Contrary to popular belief, that isn’t a bad thing on its own. Being conservative on the amount of risks taken on an album, however, is inevitably going to limit my enjoyment.

The inoffensive sound can get simply boring too, especially on the back half of this album. But at the same time, it’s hard to deny songs like “Direct Sunlight”. It’s this album’s “Way to be Loved”, in my view. It stands out heavily from the other songs here, with a unique drum pattern and a cute synth line. And did I mention that flute solo? One could wish that this level of songwriting was present throughout, but frankly, I can be happy putting this song on my playlists and be on my way, with a little bit of appreciation for a quite pleasant distraction.


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