By HARRISON SMITH
OUGHT MUST BE night owls. These young, Canadian postpunkers hail from Montreal, the very same bubbling musical hub that has produced The Unicorns, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Chromeo, and most notably, Arcade Fire. Despite these looming representations of what the city is supposed to sound like, Ought manage to sound nothing like them. Instead, they delve into their record collections, creating a retrograde frankenstein of their most angular, jagged, and melodic favorites.
Their excellent 2014 release, “Today More Than Any Other Day,” contains absurd non-sequiturs and off-kilter social critiques a la David Byrne, the punk energy of Wire, Mark E Smith of The Fall’s drunken delivery, and Television’s curious, melodic songwriting. However, Ought aren’t simply replacing local influences with historical ones. Ought make their mark by way of their overwhelming optimism, and (can you believe it?) their friendliness. The reason I invoke friendliness, of all concepts musical or not, is due to the common post-punk attitudes of isolation, coldness, discord, and confusion. As a freshman last semester, I spent many a night walking around, headphones cocooning me from my frighteningly new and overwhelming environment. Of course, the musical stylings of Interpol, Viet Cong, and The Birthday Party soundtracked my little angsty walks.
And so, with the “Sun Coming Down” as day turns to night, Ought do not retreat, flinch, or cower. The album’s opener “Men for Miles” tells the listener “You’re a good apple/Now shake it,” and “Excuse me, would you say there is a chance/Of bringing this whole fucker down?” I could easily imagine R Kelly or Miguel sensually whispering these lines into my ear. How many post-punk lyrics have that going for them? With charged-up lyrics buzzing of electricity, overdriven guitars that play with dissonance and melodic complexity, and jumpy drums, Ought are arguably the nervous but earnest face of sonic existentialism in 2015.
Instead of lying down and wallowing in defeat and suffering as many other post-punkers do, Ought get up out of their seats and grapple with life. In the album highlight, “Beautiful Blue Sky,” frontman Tim Darcy refuses to let the drudgery of modern interaction get under his skin, first imitating dull sayings snarkily: “How’s the church?/How’s the job?/How’s your health been?/ How’s the family?” But later accepting that these relationships are “all that we have/Just that and the beautiful blue sky.”
When Darcy bluntly states “I am no longer afraid to die,” I believe him. Following that statement he summons forth the rest of his life with an almost sexual release in his voice, lusting for whatever may come next with a simple “yes.”