Canadian post-punk quartet Ought’s second album, Sun Coming Down, is a herky-jerky missile shot straight out of 1979. Channelling Fear of Music-era Talking Heads and Television’s Marquee Moon, the band makes clear their love for the off-kilter rhythms and angular guitars of the 70s classics. But Ought have a breathless weirdness all of their own that is in large part thanks to the vocal acrobatics of frontman Tim Darcy – Darcy has an eccentric, speedy and somewhat nasally delivery that has the ability to warp even the most commonplace of lyrics into something spiky and supernatural. His habit of stressing unusual syllables in sentences(there were men for MILES, there were men for MILES) makes his singing unpredictable and incredibly compelling. He gives the impression of singing not in harmony with the music but perpendicular to it, with his strange yelpy poetry flying off at violent right angles.
Darcy’s lyrics, much like those of David Byrne, have a habit of turning unremarkable domestic subjects inside out, rendering them surreal and sinister. Album highlight ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ (tied with Viet Cong’s ‘Death’ for post-punk track of the year) features a chorus of hilariously empty conversational pleasantries, which are repeated over and over again into an unnerving mantra. Darcy’s delivery starts off nasally and satirical, as if he was singing out of a dated American sitcom: “Hows the family? Hows the family? Hows the family?”. But as the guitars bring the song towards a spine-tingling climax that matches anything off Marquee Moon for quality, the lyrics are delivered in an escalating state of panic, as if the perfect suburban world they seem to inhabit was descending into madness: “BEAUTIFUL WEATHER TODAY! BEAUTIFUL WEATHER TODAY! BEAUTIFUL WEATHER TODAY!”. The effect is chilling and in my eyes stands out as the clear highlight of the record.
Opener ‘Men For Miles’ comes close, however, with its deft use of tension and release: the pre-chorus of the song constantly threatens to explode into a glorious mess of angular chords, but each time diffuses and settles back into the steady, galloping rhythm of Tim Keen’s drums. It leaves the listener constantly hanging on to the next part of the song, and demonstrates an instinct for punk songwriting that I think makes Ought a band with huge potential. While I can’t say that every moment on the record matches the giddy heights of Beautiful Blue Sky and a handful of other tracks, this is a band with a lot of personality and a lot of talent, and they’ve come out with one of the best post-punk albums of the year.