Sun Coming Down
One look at the presidential race in the two respective parties, and it is easy to assume that the United States has lost its mind. Leading the GOP is Donald Trump, a megalomaniac millionaire who trumps himself daily with more and more offensive/ludicrous statements that somehow only bolster his standing with conservatives. Young democrats have found their flavor of the week in Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist whose idealistic platform seems highly unachievable in a beltway that is more partisan than ever. One can’t help but wonder how these two unlikely candidates have gained such a following.
I like to believe it’s not so much the message of this duo that has excited the American people – it’s the fact that they are outsiders. Both candidates have refused to take money from corporate entities and special interest groups, the usual suspects who have put a stranglehold on the government, making citizens feel frustrated and powerless.
The Canadian quartet Ought have mirrored this frustration in both of their releases on Constellation Records. On 2013’s More Than Any Other Day, the band boiled down this helpless feeling to a life where shopping for milk is a highlight in a world where we can only assure ourselves that “everything is okay” while always “sinking deeper.” It’s common for bands today to focus on the dystopian, apocalyptic downfall that lies ahead, yet Ought have remained focus on the mundane patterns of everyday existence that we have all passively agreed upon.
On their recent release, Sun Coming Down, the derisive viewpoint continues. With a jittery, nasal vocal approach, Tim Darcy gives us another dose of hopelessness on album highlight “Beautiful Blue Sky,” a 7-minute reflection on the humdrum of modern life. After giving a despairing list of “War plane/ Condo/ New development,” Darcy jumps into our submissive response: “How’s the family?”, “How’s your health been?”, and “Beautiful weather today.” Instead of talking about the real problems that we pass on our daily commute, we stick to pointless, predictable water cooler talk. Ought has a skill, similar to Kurt Vonnegut, of presenting the world in a way that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.
“Beautiful Blue Sky”:
Much like their debut, Sun Coming Down is only eight tracks, and as a result, there’s no filler here. Instead, it’s 40 minutes of sardonic post-punk that remains securely planted in the dilemmas of living in the present tense. A common motif in punk rock is to inspire listeners to fight back, but for the most part, Sun Coming Down simply tells us it’s better to just ignore the carnage and give in. On “Passionate Turn” Darcy states that he has “given up on love” and on “Sun’s Coming Down” he reveals “my heart is not open.” On “Men For Miles” he describes a political system that “came with instructions” and is run by men, and “On the Line” he compares the gentrification of our cities to the decimation of the buffalo. Even on an upbeat track entitled “Celebration” he sarcastically describes a party scene where he’d rather sit in the corner and smoke pot than deal with the phony interactions and finger foods. Only on “Beautiful Blue Sky” does he seem happy as he sings, “I’m no longer ‘fraid to die/ ’cause that is all that I have left.”
“On the Line”:
Musically, Ought continues to borrow heavily from the past, taking the anxious aura of Television and running it through The Fall’s combative lens, the guitars constantly bumping up against each other, heightening the tension found within the neurotic music. The Fall’s influence can also be heard in Darcy’s Mark E. Smith vocal delivery, occasional slipping in some David Byrne for good measure. It may not be 1979, but the same feelings of uncertainty still ring true and Ought’s brand of post-punk sounds fresh despite its obvious influences.
An album of hopeless, anxiety may not sound like the most uplifting listen, but in a time where Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are our only hope, a little snark may not be such a bad thing. “Beautiful Blue Sky” says it best: “I’m no longer ‘fraid to dance tonight/ ‘cause that is all that I have left.” Here’s to dancing in the dark times.