By Michael Orpen
TOPS is a band that I’ve been infatuated with ever since I first listened to them about a year ago. Their 70s soft rock throwback approach to indie is something oddly refreshing. It’s become the logical conclusion to Rex Orange County’s 2017 single “Loving is Easy,” as there’s been a large uptick in 70s influence tracks since the release. TOPS solidified this approach with their 2020 release, “I Feel Alive.” However, this takes us to review of their latest EP “Empty Seats” that was released just earlier this week.
From the first drum kick of the intro, it’s clear that the pop of the 1970s was inspired all over. The tones of the guitars have such a bright, almost nostalgic tone to them. Unforgettably accentuated by the keyboards that come together in the bridge with a 3 beat interlude to bring all the instruments together. The muted guitar playing on the third track “Waiting” also brings an interesting angle to the sonic mix. The drums hold the back very well with a simple, albeit effective snare and prominent kick fills. The bass compliments the drums very well. However, the bass lines are not as adventurous and meaningful as I would like (think “Sweet Freedom” by Uriah Heep). However, all instrumentation is very exceptional on the EP. I especially love the keyboards, particularly on “Party Again.”
A key element to any TOPS release is Jane Penny’s vocals. To no exception, they are exquisite here. Her whispery voice in conjunction with the slower tempo of the EP give a very somber and ghostly vibe, especially heard with the many vocal harmonies and accents throughout the album. This can most be seen as her voice joins a chorus of ghastly notes on the track, “Future Waits.” The lyrics are rather generic however, featuring typical lyrics about lost love and bad relationships. Relatable lyrics for sure but none of them stick out to me specifically and haven’t said what’s already been said.
Overall, I’d give this release 3.5 stars out of 5. The instrumentation brings a sort of chill atmosphere that creates a great canvas. It’s almost at full force here. However, what holds it back is the overall lack of lyrical oomf that I expected from TOPS after their most recent release from 2020. In addition, this EP just sounds like scraps from their most recent release. The second track “Janet Planet” really doesn’t do it for me, as it’s pretty repetitive (and for lack of a better term, boring). However, there is still a lot to listen to here especially if you love more chill lo fi music. And again, this is all just my opinion and is by no means the end all be all. I do recommend giving this EP a listen!