Ought’s solar-tastic new record comes hot on the heels of their debut album More than Any Other Day, which seemed to sneak onto every discerning muso’s end-of-year list. Not mine though – a fact that surprised no one more than myself considering it came out on Constellation, a label responsible for an outrageous succession of incredible albums made in Montreal.
I’m not sure why Ought’s debut didn’t grab me, apart from some vague impression that it just sounded like some old post-punk rehash. And I’m not sure why Sun Coming Down has grabbed me so vigorously, seeing as it leaves itself open to the same criticism with its slanted disposition, jerky tempo changes, stream-of-consciousness lyric-barking and frequent bursts of distorted guitars. At its worst, it’s still another post-punk rehash, albeit a very appealing one. At its best however, it’s a step on a ladder leading somewhere really quite wonderful.
Take ‘Men For Miles’, which sees vocalist/guitarist Tim Darcy doing his most sardonic Mark E. Smith impression for lines like: “They were men for miles, and doesn’t it just bring a tear to your eye…’ – the track, however, jabs with that breakneck, threatening-to-shake-itself-apart speed that The Fall can’t really muster any more. Similarly, you feel like you have to hold on tight to the likes of ‘On The Line’ when they suddenly speed off, just in case you end up being dropped into the abyss.
Not everything pulsates with such energy though; the slumbering ‘Passionate Turn’ is so laboured you start assuming its title must be ironic. Luckily ‘The Combo’ replaces that white flag by running up Wire’s pink one before furiously chugging off like a runaway steam train that Howard Devoto’s just abandoned.
Happily, any worries that Ought can’t operate as effectively in lower gears are then eased by ‘Sun’s Coming Down’, which chucks huge washes of sound at the canvas in a way that feels almost ecstatic, yet simultaneously very considered.
However, it’s the album’s centrepiece that shows the band at their best. The seven-minute opus ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ is a glorious, shifting composition that can lay claim to being one of the finest of the year – every time it ebbs away a guitar seems to suddenly break against its shore once more. It feels like the work of a more muscular Life Without Buildings, or even Pere Ubu covering ‘Marquee Moon’, while Darcy’s impulsive vocals are intriguingly enunciated to resemble both the aforementioned Mark E. Smith and Paddy Considine’s deranged character Morell in A Room For Romeo Brass – one of several curious stamps the north of England seems to have left on the record.
Any track would suffer following that and so it is with ‘Celebration’, although “A bottle of something / A hand full of blood’ sounds like a decent celebration by anyone’s standards. It’s left to ‘Never Better’ to provide the triumphant finale the record deserves, and it’s also exactly like what I hoped Viet Cong would sound like before I actually heard them. Never better indeed.
While the title of Sun Coming Down makes a sunset sound like some sort of terrible accident – in this jagged, temperamental atmosphere at least – you sense the sun is only just beginning to rise on Ought’s career. With any luck, another ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ awaits.
Kier Wiater Carnihan
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