Considering the quartet formed only three years ago, Ought present themselves with surprisingly stable form on their sophomore full-length, Sun Coming Down. On last year’s More Than Any Other Day, the band found an artful post-punk voice entirely its own, yet they hadn’t even been a band for even two years. They’ve clearly been absorbing life rapidly in the brief stretch that’s passed in the interim, and the way in which they retell what they’ve seen strikes deep. Ought deliver anxiety and resolution with dependable assuredness. And, best of all, there’s no soapbox. They’re standing next to you, with you, for you.
The album’s cover echoes Remain in Light, likely an intentional nod to and possible jab at the Talking Heads comparisons critics stick on their backs. The Montreal four-piece is hyper-aware. They see why those comparisons make sense, why singer Tim Darcy’s half-joking voices are still serious, why monotony is comfortable, why monotony is terrifying, why monotony kills, where their four individual musical roads meet and their anxieties fizz out, and the tiny, unavoidable point where it all crashes together. They see the drop-off at the end of the sidewalk and they’re prepping us for the fall with road signs and kind words, just as Shel Silverstein would have wanted. Sun Coming Down leads where we know we’ve been walking all along: a future where comfort strips life of passion.
Sure, there’s anxiety here again, but even more than that, Ought capture the act of transitioning. Sun Coming Down is the urgency of life between realizing the inevitable and fumbling to form a response, and the record plays out like they want to stay in control. Opener “Men For Miles” faces a sea of mindless people. Every snarky question — “Excuse me, is there a window?/ Do you have a light?”, “Would you say there’s a chance of bringing this whole fucker down?” — hits with full force before Darcy makes a more direct address: “When you get off the ground/ Are you gonna be ready/ When you see who we are?” The music pounds behind his shaky words, thundering forward.
The complicated time signature changes from 5/8 to 6/8 in “Sun’s Coming Down” expand on that musical frenzy, pinching moments of clarity from crunchy feedback. Even Darcy’s tongue-in-cheek comparisons of himself to a house pet (“Ave Maria, I am your dog”) on “On The Line” catch the band striving to belong and find comfort. As they age, they’re pushed towards a life of settling and safety they don’t necessarily want.
In many ways, Sun Coming Down focuses on pushing the themes of the first record — post-punk grit, sassy wordplay, conflated guilt — farther. “The Combo” slowly changes from knots of noise into resolution as the guitars change chords, and everything relaxes. The instruments support Darcy as he spews out a countdown and twirls up and down the scale. Ought proved extremely skilled at the clever interplay between music and lyrics on the group’s debut, and have only strengthened that talent since.
The production throughout thoughtfully considers the essential sounds of the instruments and the natural fingerprints each song carries. No track outlines this better than “Beautiful Blue Sky”. Keyboardist Matt May and bassist Ben Stidworthy shape a gorgeous world of tone from just two chords. Over eight minutes, the quartet masterfully layer patterns and tapped strings that recall Life Without Buildings. It’s fluffy, lush, and genuinely cathartic. Darcy’s voice trades pitches as he starts calling out the daily white noise of small-talk: “How’s the church?/ How’s the job?/ Beautiful weather today/ Fancy seeing you here.” He repeats them until that comedy fodder becomes depressing. First come the deep lung bellows of an announcer. Then, the tangy, shallow breaths of exasperation. “Beautiful Blue Sky” is the only song on the album that wasn’t written in the first three months of this year, but earlier, just before their first big tour, giving them time to stretch it out as they trekked the globe. That’s why it feels lived-in to the point of comfort, where the banal repetition no longer prompts fear, but rather a two-minute instrumental of defeated acceptance.
Sun Coming Down is succinct without being rushed. Only spanning eight songs, the record stays focused and curt while still allowing time to fluctuate, fogging up the face of a clock in favor of watching the sun set. Over the course of nearly 41 minutes, it moves from a schoolyard blush to a green rust to a darkening aubergine bruise. Their sound evokes the colors of pain in the process of healing. Sun Coming Down builds on Ought’s remarkable debut with poise and certainty that the quiet terrors of anxiety cease to slow as you age, as seen in the staccato punches of “Passionate Turn” or the gaudy slosh of “Celebration”. Ought is still a new band, but the quartet already has so many lessons and stories flashing behind their eyes. The days of pay-what-you-can venues, political marches, and life-sucking day jobs weren’t really that long ago. On Sun Coming Down, they come to grips with how close both the end of the day and the end of the sidewalk actually are — a distance that quickly becomes the new arm’s reach unless you’re willing to push it away.
Essential Tracks: “Beautiful Blue Sky”, “The Combo”, and “Men For Miles”