Album Review: Ought – Sun Coming Down
Sun Coming Down (Constellation)
Based on two albums’ worth of evidence (sixteen songs, all in), there’s one particular topical concern which already sounds fundamental to Ought’s style. Musically speaking, theirs is a recognisable and occasionally shambolic approach, one which tightly packs post-punk guitar, menacing bass, clattering drums and fuzzed-out keys into hair-prickling grooves that are laced with a highly enjoyable playfulness thanks to frontman Tim Darcy. Conceptually, their songs revolve around deceptively simple musings on existentialism, many of the group’s standout cuts wrestling with the mind-numbing, soul-eroding bleakness of routines that stretch on without end. Such ideas have been done to death by this age, but where Ought thrive is in finding means to both condemn and condone their discoveries simultaneously. Whether it’s the gleeful build-and-release tactics of standout tracks like ‘Today, More Than Any Other Day’, or a well-timed appearance of one of Darcy’s nasally, smart-ass quips, there’s a liberated thrill to Ought’s rattling aesthetic, perhaps borne of embracing the silliness of life’s most mundane enterprises.
Sun Coming Down doesn’t throw out the rulebook in the wake of last year’s triumphant More Than Any Other Day, but it does offer a much starker presentation of Ought’s formula. Recorded live to tape after several seasons of workhorse touring, there’s an angry heat rising from within the full band performances; the lethargic builds of More Than Any Other Day replaced by more unbridled thrashes which strike hot from the off. Bookending tracks ‘Men for Miles’ and ‘Never Better’ may not be the heaviest cuts available, but both exhibit the unease that characterises Sun Coming Down, the latter bearing down on the listener like a monstrous chariot straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road. “This is the high water-mark of civilisation,” Darcy drawls over menacing bass runs as thick as tank tracks, concluding a record which opens with strangely apocalyptic vistas of “men for miles” that bring tears to the eyes.
With barely a hint of production varnish to be found, there’s an unfettered tension to the band’s performances, the dissonance frequently stretched out for minutes in displays both provocative and hypnotic. ‘The Combo’ stands as Ought’s sharpest sonic assault yet, not so much laying its cards on the table as flinging them recklessly at the listener from the outset. Likewise, the title track is almost oppressively atonal, while never quite matching the overt power of a hard- or noise-rock band. There are ups and downs to this method, and for all their impressively-wrought power, it comes as a relief when the group dial down the frazzled energy and let the music breathe. ‘Passionate Turn’ drags its feet in despondency, with drum fills scrabbling itchily as Darcy recoils from contemporary horrors in a surprisingly affecting vignette: “I imagined a perfect room / Never been so far away / Though my feet never touched the floor / I wouldn’t leave if you paid me to.” Album centrepiece (and long-standing live favourite) ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ returns to the outside world, steadily flourishing over a plodding rhythm to a near-hysterical repetition of increasingly vapid questions. The exhausted flipside to ‘Today, More Than Any Other Day’, it’s the greatest crystallisation of the band’s thematic and stylistic strengths to date.
Taken as a whole, Sun Coming Down is messy, but Ought are still testing their parameters, fidgeting and experimenting with the ways in which their knowing, urgent brand of poetry can be packaged inside guitar music. The group have formed something brooding and at times unrelenting, but for all its pronounced bite, this album mainly serves to confirm what More Than Any Other Day established so clearly last year: Ought are at their most acute when the noise dissipates enough to allow Darcy’s idiosyncratic attacks on complacency to ring out over all. Ought find the pointlessness of daily pursuits both a cause of delight and an unequivocal drag, and it’s in exposing – and often wigging out to – the friction between the two responses that the group come into their own. As Darcy himself yelps at the album’s centre, “it’s all that we have / Just that, and the big, beautiful blue sky”.
“I’m no longer afraid to dance tonight / Because that is all that I have left.”
Posted on September 23, 2015, in The Music World and tagged Album Review, Beautiful Blue Sky, Constellation, Men For Miles, More Than Any Other Day, On the Line, Ought, Passionate Turn, Sun Coming Down, Talking Heads, Tim Darcy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.