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.