Tops — ‘I Feel Alive’

THE GOOD: Canadian indie pop band Tops gives us a cool and breezy fourth.

THE BAD: “Alive” has some good moments but never transcends the formulaic.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontwoman Jane Penny leads the boys in the band through a set of gentle rockers recalling everything from ‘90s Cardigans to mid-’70s Fleetwood Mac. Comparisons to contemporaries such as Tennis and Frankie Rose aren’t far off the mark. The songs are mostly mid-tempo to somewhat upbeat. The melodies draw you in; the overall vibe is “chill.” A song such as “Ballads and Sad Movies” adds a big dose of blue-eyed soul to the mix. The flute solo in the middle of “Direct Sunlight” sprinkles on a little smooth jazz.

There’s nothing disagreeable about “I Feel Alive.” Yet, the record barely leaves a lasting impression. The music fills a blissful moment or two, and then it’s gone. We get 35 minutes of pure pop for pleasure-seeking people. But days off and impromptu road trips need soundtracks, too.

BUY IT?: Your call.


Cults — ‘Host’

THE GOOD: New York City indie pop duo Cults (vocalist Madeline Follin and multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion) comes back with its fourth.

THE BAD: No complaints.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Ten years ago, the pair made mainstream noise with their debut single, “Go Outside.” They never quite matched that early success on the pop charts, but core fans never cared. Cults’ albums delivered a sunny ‘60s sway in a more modern and even cynical setting with a melding of two different worlds that’s worked to the duo’s advantage.

“Host” continues the tradition. The record doesn’t distinguish itself all that much from other Cults sets, but that’s not a bad thing. Follin delivers the soaring hooks over the top. Oblivion makes sure those melodies have the proper slick, vibrant settings. The biggest difference is “Host” further embraces live instrumentation. Cults’ songs were always punchier and more rock-based in live settings. That aesthetic is now more present on the actual record before any touring happens. The beginning stages of this transition keep the band from growing stagnant.

BUY IT?: Sure.


The Beths — ‘Jump Rope Gazers’

THE GOOD: New Zealand indie power pop band the Beths dodges the sophomore slump.

THE BAD: Nothing.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes and the boys crank out another energetic set consisting of eight rockers and two delicate ballads. Every moment is a sticky, gooey slab of super-tasty ear candy. Not a second is wasted.

Stokes’ voice is the perfect means of delivery for songs such as slamming opener “I’m Not Getting Excited” and the more even-tempered title cut. Her slight accent is always charming, and her projection is just strong enough to cut through the guitar-heavy din underneath, all the while blending with those harmonious backup vocals.

“Gazers” doesn’t change its vibe all that much, but the album never feels stuck on repeat. Every song carries its own distinct melody. That’s one thing this band isn’t short on. And if the Beths wants to make another five albums similar to “Gazers,” I’ll take them all. Hopefully, this party is far from finished.

BUY IT?: Yes.