Most of us Millenials (I can only speak for my generation, but if it applies to others, that’s swell) were taught how to listen to music in a similar way that we were taught how to fuck; we weren’t.

As abstinence-only education leads to awkward jackhammering, broken hearts, consent issues and STDs, Top 40 radio (along with our Parents’ shitty greatest hits CDs) leads to climax-obsessed music, empty lyrics, overpriced “concerts,” and the motherfucking Chainsmokers. It makes sense. We crave release, and pop music delivers it at least 3 times every 4 minutes (just like PornHub at age 14 EYYYYOOOOO). It gives us what we want in the moment, but totally ignores what we need. And we you are never taught how to find what you need, you are only left lurching for what you crave.

Now, great friend of mine, whom I will refer to as “Chicken Joe” (mainly because that is, in fact, his real name), once said “no one ever tells you about that fucking empty feeling you get after fucking.” Enter TOPS Sugar at the Gate (whose title happens to be a euphemism for “orgasm”): a quiet masterpiece of pop that begins with a song all about that fucking empty feeling you get after fucking.

“Cloudy Skies” is a sparse, dreamt comedown, which in its dreamiest moment finds Jane Penny asking “When you know the fire’s gone, do you stay just to keep me warm?” It’s hard to catch, delivered in a soft whisper, much like the fleeting thoughts of post-coital insecurity that the question so heartbreakingly evokes. The song futher lingers on other thoughts like “I have no choice but to choose,” and “no choice but to live tomorrow.” And the next song takes that even further by bopping around the words “I just can’t let it go, I just can’t let it die” and “Was I meant to stay?”

TOPS don’t do climaxes, or drops, or anything resembling an orgasm in their song. They never quiiite boil over so much as they simmer and groove like successful foreplay, or mutual arousal. In this way, a great TOPS song, and they’re ALL great here, never comes as much as it clicks. Eventually, once you’re seduced by the dreamy, spacious atmosphere and their locked-in, purposeful grooves, little moments start to reveal themselves.

On “Cutlass Cruiser” she calmly eviscerates a lover who won’t open up to her by asking. “We both know our troubles will end. Why’d you have to go and make illusion your friend?” On “I Just Want to Make You Real” she tells, presumably the same distant lover “I just want to make you real. I want you to feeeeeel me.” all the while unable to shake the feeling that the subject will never listen.

Actually, I’ll stop there. I won’t even get into how devastating the arc is on Side B. These moments are something you should find on your own.

And in that way, by forcing you to spend time with it to learn its heartbreaking pleasures, the music provides a blueprint on how to avoid that fucking empty feeling you get after fucking. If you take the time to really get to know somebody, you may find yourself having some of the best sex you’ve ever had along with something to fill that empty feeling afterwards. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding when both parties are invested. And if you take the time to really get to know these songs, you might find something truly special.

This has been I’ve Heard It. I heard this album like 100 times already today, and I’m gonna keep Hearding it all day. I suggest you do it too.

  • Blochead4real

    I’m hearding it all day as well. Your write up is spot fucking on. TOPS is the exact example I would use for the evils of streaming. The casual listener will fire this up on new release friday and think “Hmm….well this is perfectly lovely” and then move on to the next, and more than likely sexier, friday release. This is a band that cashes their checks on subtlety and nuance. They aren’t gonna bludgeon you with big moments. It’s all part of a giant arc (as you said perfectly above) Their last album was amazing and this one is at least it’s equal. TOPS deserves so much more love than they get. Is the point of all this babbling.

    • Padfoot24

      But on the other side of that coin, if it weren’t for streaming, I’d have moved on after hearding only one song and being liek “das pretty, but not worth $10”. But now that I can spend as much time as I want with it, I just spent $22 on the limited edition #vynlz.

  • Cooolin

    Holy hell, given my life of perpetually unsatisfying sexual experiences followed my morose self-pity, this sounds like it might hit home a little too hard (or “soft,” I guess … whatever). Can’t wait to listen. Fantastic write-up as usual.

    • Padfoot24

      THX! Hope u enjoy!

      • Blochead4real

        Nice to see Cooolin is still comfortable posting here. You know, after BaBaGate.


        • Cooolin

          He gave me kissy face so we all good.

          • Padfoot24

            Now THATS journalism

  • raptor jesus

    “no one ever tells you about that fucking empty feeling you get after fucking”

    I stopped reading and let out a Keanu, “Whoa,” reading this.

    Why am I reminded of Rhye listening to this?

    • Padfoot24

      Chicken Joe is a wonderfully deplorable human chicken. And when he said those words (in front of his recent ex, mind u) my goddamn jaw hit the floor. Made/still makes me v v thankful for my wonderful gf of many years.

  • DFrye

    Nice write-up. Listened this am before reading and thought “that’s a lovely little record” and then moved on to Thunder Dreamer. Will give it more spins!

  • inthedeadofknight

    Despite numerous, completely meaningless one night stands and years of making love to two women (not simultaenously), I can honestly say I’ve never had that empty feeling. I think this album is okay, but maybe that’s the reason it’s not groundbreaking to me. I must be a sociopath! See ya around!