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The definite article is dead. Long is the list of bands that have shed the unfortunate demonstrative, choosing rather to defer to the ideal, unabashed celebration of the object, the pure title. TOPS are not 'At The Top', nor are they 'The Top Choice' or the kind of top that spins. They are simply TOPS.

A nakedness of intent seeps through Picture You Staring, the group's second long player. Embarrassingly keen affection is on display, coy and dressed up in the pastels of an early autumnal morning. 'Outside' is a stolen kiss shy of Paul Young, a rubbery bass solo and coquettish vocals joining in a storybook display of companionship for companionship's sake. You're never entirely sure if they're enraptured, or in love with the idea and stylistic trappings of being in love.

Then 'All The People Sleep' begins, and we're suddenly aware that TOPS have found their way into the inner core of melodic composition, that hinterland where songs seem to exist in their own perfectly balanced logic, and where melody becomes natural and effortless. The group create a construct so light of touch, so unique and comforting as to firstly invite numerous nice comparisons (Unknown Mortal Orchestra impact on both the production and arrangements, Broadcast on composition) before emerging coolly free of such stricture.

Sleep is a recurring theme throughout the album. There is a blurry-eyed, idealised hue to the vocals, with taut guitar riffs that operate like bedsprings, lifting the otherwise drowsy body and allowing for occasional bursts of life, as on the subtle chorus of 'Sleepwalkers'. There are less moments of shouty dissonance than previous, which makes the whole more homogenous, and sometimes a bit plaid. 'Outside' so wants to be a teen Badalamenti, right down to the at-one-detach karaoke vocals and over stimulated synth strings. For a generation slightly later than mine which saw Donnie Darko without having first seen Fire Walk With Me.

There are dancey moments that owe a debt to Metronomy in their affectation, and in their wish to squeeze maximum impact out of every curling bass line. In performance, Picture You Staring is a tighter proposition than 2012's Tender Opposites, mostly due to a more subtle use of reverb and a tender, warming mix. In its driving moments, it strongly recalls its predecessor and turns a little too mechanical. If anything, TOPS (who were already a pretty professional beast) have brushed up even further as a unit. The result doesn't always allow for much in the way of magic. The simplicity of the instrumentation employed can be wearing, particularly on tracks like 'Change of Heart', where the electronic drum kit packs a pretty weak punch, lacking any supporting percussion to fill out the picture. There's an ideal midway point between this and the embarrassing overproduction of Mystery Jets. The repetitive, gawky snare is under-produced within the context of a display already so stripped of ornament.

Picture You Staring is a worthwhile companion piece to TOPS' debut, with enough signs of development to suggest the group can progress further. What it sometimes lacks in immediacy and depth it makes up for in a number of moments of genuine transcendent beauty. Not the definite article then, but increasingly the real deal.

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