Heeeeey, TWRP are back! I’ve been vibing with their fun and interesting electro-funk rock since their second album, and they’ve been on a steady incline of making things funner and interestinger ever since. I was quite looking forward to their latest when it was announced a mere month before blast off. Like a lot of other music this year, it’s a product of its time, with the colorful Canadian quartet hunkering down during quarantine to turn out this next album.
It kind of… shows. It’s as if the less impressive moments of this album can be directly blamed on the stress and uncertainty they were assuredly facing throughout the year. I wouldn’t dare accuse the band of being lazy or lacking skill – especially after all these years – but I would definitely believe it if the anxiety and concern bled into their music in the form of mild stagnation and retreading. But hey, that’s the worst thing I can say about this album. In total, Over The Top tries – it embodies optimism, the can-do spirit. It’s climbing that mountain you couldn’t before, it’s pushing through your obstacles to success, it’s… standing atop a pile of your enemies’ corpses victorious. You know, normal stuff!
Anyway, the first single that came out of Over The Top was “Only The Best”, which is without a doubt the most wholesome song the band has released yet. An ode to singer Doctor Sung’s supportive and compassionate mother, it’s a genuinely cute track:
‘Another lesson that my momma taught
The best things in life cannot be bought
She’s always wanted what’s best for me
And if she knew you, I know she would want what’s best for you too!‘
This is all sung over a sugary sweet, sunshiny synth rock backing track that twinkles and sparkles alongside formidable basslines (TWRP always bring the bass courtesy of Commander Meouch). It caught me off guard – it’s not that TWRP aren’t incapable of exhibiting this kind of pure energy, but it’s not what I expected to be sure.
A lot of the songs here have a pure heart. “Roll With It” and “Somewhere Out There” are high-spirited tracks that exude that can-do spirit I mentioned before. The former encourages you to… well, roll with it and persevere through hardship. The latter is a daydream excursion of the mind, thinking of all the places we could go ‘if we can just keep our shit together‘, featuring some disco-esque licks. These songs and those like them (around half the album) are satisfactory, but tread similar ground as before. Where Over The Top glows the brightest is when they step out of that comfort zone a bit and, perhaps coincidentally, involve others.
“Top Secret” is on some spy movie soundtrack shit with exceptional bass work, and synths provided by YouTube personality and fellow Canadian music man, Andrew Huang. It’s far and beyond the most funky and fierce track on the album, utilizing buzzy synths and melodies as lethal as a poison dart shot from an unassuming fountain pen blow gun. The next track, “Destination”, is equally fierce, really channeling that ’80s arena rock sound featuring The Gambler, someone I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with, but wow do they evoke some unreal Pat Benatar energy with the vocals. Lord Phobos’ guitars really accent the whole piece to completion, making the track feel like a lost relic from the Top Gun soundtrack.
I have to say though, the apex of Over The Top is easily “Black Swan”, featuring Dan Avidan (Ninja Sex Party, Starbomb). This is the longest song TWRP have ever produced – a veritable mini space opera about the eponymous Black Swan, a legendary bounty hunter that must find and take down an assassin at the request of a great queen. It even has a distinctive three-act arc from when Black Swan receives the fateful bounty, to taking to his starship to engage his target (voiced by Doctor Sung’s appropriately talk boxed voice) in a star-lit dogfight, to rejoicing in the victory and bringing about another halcyon day for the hunter. From reluctant suspense to high-tempo climax, the track shifts and switches things up for each act expertly. Coupled with the awesome vocals and storytelling more vivid than anything before it, it’s easily my favorite TWRP song ever. A bonus: it feels like a spiritual successor to “Starlight Brigade“, another song Dan featured on from TWRP‘s 2018 album, Together Through Time. Also, I never noticed until this song, but he sounds a lot like Rob Swire (Pendulum, Knife Party) at times, which lends itself a certain joy for me as I’m a fan of Swire.
It’s kind of weird to be faced with an album that has such incredible highs coupled with passable, borderline frustrating mids. You see the potential for the album to collectively reach that height, but it’s weighed down by the expectation of what TWRP should be. Granted, this isn’t bad – I would rather take an album that bottoms out at average from TWRP than most any other band because at least you know you’re in for some fun with them. Fans will of course love it regardless. And hey, I didn’t give away every cool thing about this album. Spoiler: take a peek at “Grand Prix”, which is a great city pop/disco stunner of an instrumental closer.
All in all, Over The Top doesn’t in fact go over the top, or reinvent a wheel, tread, thruster, or any other method of transport. That doesn’t mean this trip is without its merits though – TWRP are a well-defined entity by now and if playing it safe still yields an awesome journey, that’s a win. Positive vibes, pleasant variations, and the features really help the music reach its full potential. A nice autumn treat for when we’re all burned out from the pesky tricks the world stuffs in our bag.