Montreal indie electronic outfit TOPS set up shop in a house and garage in Glendale, California to record their third LP, Sugar at the Gate. Rather than the clement setting adding a dose of sunshine or high contrast to the recordings, main songwriters Jane Penny and David Carriere are as reflective and despondent as ever here. Lead singer Penny revealed in press surrounding the album that she and Carriere had been dating for years but split around the time they finished it. Though the pair didn't intend to chronicle their relationship in the songs, it's easy to hear Sugar at the Gate as a breakup album, especially with lyrics like the opener's "Looking up at cloudy skies/I look ahead and see my sorrow." Their wistful sophisti-pop sound is reintroduced on the song, titled "Cloudy Skies," with Penny's breathy delivery backed by spongy keyboard chords and backing vocals alongside light-handed, jazzy guitar and drums. Later, on "Hours Between," she wonders "How will I know/When will I know/You're not coming back/We're not going home." A languid lament that pairs lilting verses with deflated choruses, its drums and rhythm guitar fall away from time to time, exposing lonely vocals over humming background synths. "I Just Wanna Make You Real" has slightly richer textures provided by flutes and omnipresent seventh chords on the guitar and occasional backing harmonies. More uptempo, defiant entries include the gauzy "Dayglow Bimbo" and "Cutlass Cruiser," though they maintain a veil of tristesse. If a touch weightier in tone, the album returns a distinctive palette and home-recorded finish to a heavy-heartedness firmly established on 2014's Picture You Staring, so fans and sentimentalists may take heart.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson