Music review: Ought's new album

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Luke Maguire

You could call Ought a punk band, or you could call them a bunch of pretentious art rockers trying to pass for authentic punk. Either way, genre seems like an outdated construct to them. Ought shrugs off with aplomb any preconceived notions on their sophomore release Sun Coming Down. Take lead single “Beautiful Blue Sky” as the album’s finest example of such self-assured disinterest.

Guitarist and vocalist Tim Beeler Darcy, Ought’s X factor, namechecks the mundane pleasantries we exchange in everyday life: “Fancy seeing you here/ How’s the church?/ How’s the job?/ How’s the family?/ Beautiful weather today/ Time and off again.” Do these words really have meaning? Such is the central conceit to Ought’s lyricism: question the ordinary not with vitriol but with a sense of sardonic wit.

The band’s frenetic energy conveys a certain sense of rebellion, but with this attitude comes smugness. Darcy’s incisive aside in the chorus—“I’m no longer afraid to die/ ‘Cause that is all that I have left/ Yes! Yes!/ And I’m not longer afraid to dance tonight/ ‘Cause that is all that I have left”—is delivered with such aggressive indifference, rendering his satire all the more effective.

Wit is what the Montréal-based quartet does best. Its members met as students at McGill University in 2012, and after almost instantly developing a fruitful artistic relationship, the band released their 2014 debut More Than Any Other Day, quietly one of the greatest albums released that year. As a whole, Sun Coming Down is a less ambitious and more straightforward affair that sees the band refine their signature sound.

Darcy weaves his discordant post-punk guitar styling seamlessly with his impressively acrobatic vocals. The rest of the band contributes to the inner turmoil that each song naturally builds, as Ought often force themselves into precarious situations. Fraught with tension, each song carries with it its own sense of volatile momentum. The band constantly performs a balancing act, having to keep the listeners interest while the album indulges in meandering instrumental sections before Darcy snaps the songs back into focus.

Still, it’s difficult not to be at least intrigued by Ought’s messy but dense DIY aesthetic. Album opener “Men for Miles” is a propulsive number in the militaristic vein that the band can often tap into to great effect; a breakneck drumbeat sets the backdrop for Darcy’s knotty, cyclonic guitar, but Ben Stidworthy’s bass supplies the lifeblood with a dull, thumping groove that keeps the song alive. The same can be said for almost every other song on Sun Coming Down, so it’s up to Darcy’s vocals to make each track compelling on its own.

No other track provides a better showcase for Darcy’s impressive ability to transform a whole song on a dime with his vocal tics than “The Combo,” featuring a dizzying onslaught of guitar and keyboard that could only possibly be shown up by Darcy’s vocals. He constantly shifts from a fiery rap-like cadence to an affectatious and animated tone that succeeds in making the song a thrilling listen.

What Sun Coming Down lacks, though, is the emotion and ingenuity found on More Than Any Other Day. Viewed in context, Sun Coming Down seems like a well-deserved victory lap for Ought, or a relatively casual piece that expands upon the band’s narrative. That’s not to say it wasn’t crafted with care, as the album’s eight songs clearly work well together to illustrate an accurate impression of where the band is going. While Sun Coming Down may not be the artistic triumph that More Than Any Other Day is, it’s still a promising effort from one of the most effortlessly creative young bands today.

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