Album Review: Ought, ‘Sun Coming Down’.

Ought, amongst other things, hold the title for being the only band that I’ve ever interviewed. Last year, when I was a music editor at The Bubble and before I entered the scary world of post-university life, I fell in love with their debut album More Than Any Other Day and jumped at the chance when an email came in asking me whether I’d be interested in meeting them in a backroom of the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.

If you haven’t listened to More Than Any Other Day you probably should do, it would be an excellent investment of 40 minutes of your time. It was a release that went largely unheard for the most part, but attracted a lot of critical praise, including a ‘Best New Music’ from Pitchfork. It provided a mixture of complex rhythms, long strung-out instrumentals and impressive melodies. My favourite aspect of the album, however, was Tim Beeler (now going by Tim Beeler Darcy). The complex vocalists’ weird delivery was something akin to the tones of a creepy fun fair announcer. Or Perhaps if Joel Grey’s Cabaret character developed an North American accent and fronted a post punk band. Or, if you like, David Byrne was born 30 years late. Beeler’s lyrics on the album matched his voice for strangeness:

“And today, more than any other day I am prepared to make the decision between 2% and whole milk. And today, more than any other day I’m gonna look into the eyes of the old man across from me on the train and say: hey, everything is gonna be okay!”

‘More Than Any Other Day’ sounded like both a dystopian future, but also a recognisable past. A dirty, drugs and crime ridden late sixties to early eighties New York. A sound that started with Velvet Underground, ended with Talking Heads and is now being resurrected by Montreal band Ought (although none of the members actually come from Montreal, or even Canada). When I interviewed the band they said this sound was purely accidental and not something they set out to achieve when creating their music. The drummer Tim Keeler described it as “like a thousand typewriters and a thousand monkeys type of thing”. Regardless of how they got here, I like it and in their new album, Sun Coming Down, compared to their last we’ve seen this style refined to carry darker, more sinister undertones.

Ought songs have a tendency for outbursts, interludes, short refrains and throw away lines. Whereas in their last LP these were used as a source of amusement, in Sun Coming Down they’re used to provide menace, to give the shits to anyone daring to listen to the album with headphones on, alone, in the dark. Just listen to the “jubilation” part at the end of ‘Combo’ for a perfect example.

Repetition is also one of the album’s strong points. Repeated lines dance around like they do in nightmares on television:

“How’s the family? How’s the family? How’s the family? How’s the family?

How’s your health been? How’s your health been? How’s your health been? How’s your health been? Fancy seeing you here, fancy seeing you here, fancy seeing you here, fancy seeing you here”

I won’t even attempt to try and explain what the album’s about, because wouldn’t dare claim to know (I guess an English student – like Time Beeler Darcy himself – would be a good person to turn to…) For me it’s an LP that instead conveys a ‘feel’, a package of textures and emotions, that give off an impression of fear, anxiety, nervousness.

Extended instrumentals, like what Viet Cong perfected earlier this year on their track ‘Death’, are stronger on ‘Sun Coming Down’ (see ‘Never Better’). However the sort of more straightforward, even singalong melodies that constituted some of the highlights of ‘More Than Any Other Day’ (the outro to the track ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’, the chorus of ‘The Weather Song’) rarely feature at all on Sun Coming Down. Melodic treats are more random and shorter in duration and as a result Ought’s second album is certainly less accessible than their first.

So what are my overall thoughts? I, personally, really like the album. Ought have produced an album of some of the most interesting music I’ve heard all year and have crafted a sound that, yes, has links to great alternative guitar bands of the past, but also feels incredibly unique in today’s world of music. They probably haven’t helped their cause of getting big anytime soon, and you couldn’t really pick out any track on Sun Coming Down that feels like a standout (if pushed, maybe ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’?), but their second LP succeeds where the vast majority albums fail in being consistently good-to-excellent throughout.

Beautiful Blue Sky video

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