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Spinnaker Record Club: Why Ought’s Sun Coming Down is the most crucial rock album of the year

Spinnaker Record Club is a weekly selection of music releases designed to introduce students to sounds they may not find elsewhere.

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Every so often a band comes along that tries to slap us out of our complacent, conditioned, first-world lives. We had Talking Heads in the 80s, Nirvana in the 90s, Modest Mouse until they went corporate, and now, in the middle of our highly commercialized decade, we have Ought, who made the best album of last year and the best song of this one.

Graphic by Rachel Rector
Graphic by Rachel Rector

That song is called “Beautiful Blue Sky,” and it is the centerpiece of their new album Sun Coming Down. Like David Byrne on “Once in a Lifetime,” vocalist Tim Beeler Darcy, whose voice combines the expressiveness of Thom Yorke and David Bowie with Byrne’s sense of irony, refrains from singing and opts instead to tell it like it is. He gives us a view out his window, and what he sees is grim: “Warplane, condo, oil freighter, new development.” He follows up with a barrage of idiotic small-talk greetings: “How’s the family, how’s the family, fancy seeing you here, fancy seeing you here.” None of these greetings mean anything or indicate that we care about each other. Maybe they did once, but now they’re all about going through the motions, all while new developments and oil freighters suck the land dry. We put all our energy into empty words and shallow socialization that we ignore the world around us, fail to see that it’s being destroyed, until all that’s left is the petty talk – “Just that, and the big, beautiful blue sky.”

Ought, who formed at Montreal’s McGill University amidst the “Maple Spring” student movement against tuition hikes, have advocated this way of thinking since their formation, and especially since releasing their album More than Any Other Day last year. That album’s experimental bent and articulated sense of confusion with our time solidified it as one of the best debuts any rock band has released (I even prefer it to Arcade Fire’s Funeral). Sun Coming Down doesn’t attempt to keep up the vibe. It emphasizes songcraft over LP structure, as its octet of post punk tunes could seemingly go in any order. Its advantage over the first album, however, is that the band knows what they want to say, and make delivering the message a priority.

Sun Coming Down wants you to know that the world you’re dancing around in is deeply flawed. “Beautiful Blue Sky” is the clearest articulation of this, but the rest of the album’s songs are just as brutal, profound and enjoyable. “Passionate Turn” tells us to accept that our dreams may be broken, that we may never reach the “perfect room” we imagine ourselves living in. All the while, it warns us of the devastating effects conformity may work upon us: loneliness, hopelessness, abandoning love. “Celebration” is a hilarious, cutting drag at emptyheaded consumerism and hedonism, telling us not to lose ourselves in a haze of smoke and drink, not to worry about abusing substances as a means of fitting in. And then there’s energetic opener “Men for Miles,” which I find myself clinging to in times of stress despite having yet to decipher it.

More than any other rock band currently working, Ought wants to use their music to impact change, and Sun Coming Down is their most refined expression yet. It proves that today’s music can be more than entertainment, have impact beyond the shallow ground of the musical landscape, and because of that, it may be the most crucial album of 2015. – Douglas Markowitz

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XII7af9SrLI]Back on Top Review Rachel RectorOn Back On Top, the latest release from Jersey pop punk band the Front Bottoms, vocalist Brian Sella still sings with his geeky, post-pubescent gurgle and self-deprecating theme, but the music lacks all of the playful inventiveness of their previous albums that makes them the fun-loving f—k-ups their fans love them for.

The most important preservation of The Front Bottoms’ style that lingers in Back on Top is sadness. These two guys still wallow in their failures, breakups, trashed living rooms and dumb friends in each song like they always have.

There is, however, a groundbreaking new aspect to this album that fans definitely did not expect—a song about a normal, healthy, head-over-heels relationship called “2YL.” No one who knows the Front Bottoms thought this would ever happen, but it seems as though our boys have found real love. They even express it with a cheesy saxophone solo.

Even so, they’re still the same screw-ups. The track right after, “West Virginia,” is the most depressing heartbreak anthem of the year, putting them right back to being “hellbent on self-destruction” – the one thing we can count on them for.

Musically, this album is confusing compared to previous albums. The Front Bottoms normally whine to tracks of a playful acoustic guitar and the occasional ring of a trumpet, but this album crash lands in a place with mediocre electric guitars, saxophones and mainstream alternative rhythms.

One track, “Historic Cemetery,” begins as a typical Front Bottoms stoner anthem, but ends up tangled in a downright strange rap verse from GDP, a hip-hop artist the band did a split with in May of 2015. I had to check if the same song was still playing on my laptop, and not one of those annoying online pop up ads.

The Front Bottoms have added on layers of production with each new release they put out after their first fickly named album from 2008 that we’re not sure they even have a title for (but we think it’s I Hate My Friends). From this stripped down, spunky collection, the band has evolved into a weird mix of themselves and everyone else they think they should be.

Upon first listen, fans will be significantly disappointed. But Front Bottoms fans can be counted on to come for the sad and stay for the sad. As long as they are miserable, The Front Bottoms will always have fans to cry to. – Rachel Cazares

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqxe3NZKYL0]
Graphic by Rachelle Rector
Graphic by Rachelle Rector

After listening to both their album Holding Hands With Jamie and its more concise EP equivalent The Early Years, I can only confirm that the music of Girl Band – who, like Women before them, are all dudes – makes you want to fight people. I know not if this is their intent, but I do know that all I want to do right now is pick up something heavy, throw it and flex.

Very noisy, dissonant music tends to have this effect. From hardcore punk to Death Grips to nu metal, every generation has that one band that puts them in a pleasurably mindless, violent state. Girl Band, who come from Dublin, may be filling that role for the moment. Certainly their guttural, grinding, fuzzed-up guitar work, skeletal, unhinged drumming, muscular bass and Dara Kiely’s whining, atonal vocals don’t make for a productive study hour. We can’t really understand what the hell he’s saying, but you know he’s angry, or at the very least scornful, and it makes us react appropriately.

None of this is a criticism. In fact, it’s part of the appeal. Girl Band has taken the antagonistic sound of Big Black and early Swans and fused it with the catchiness of dance-punk and noise rock. Amidst the grinding, whirring noise and pulsing beat, our lizard brains take over. Thus, it makes sense that they’re at their best at length, when their poisonous brew has time to take over. Album centerpiece “Paul” takes nearly seven minutes to crescendo from a steady, detuning bass line and drum affair into a cacophonous, screeching squaw of fuzz and beats. Only the opener “Umbongo” and the similarly lengthy “F–king Butter” can compare.

Holding Hands With Jamie sounds like it was recorded in a cave by Neanderthals scraping crude stone tools against the walls, and Girl Band are like a halfway-decent version of Death From Above 1979. Ultimately, their album is a strong, yet not a superb start for a band that has the talent to keep scratching our lizard brains for years to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to body slam into a parked car. – DM

Other Notable Releases:

DJ Earl – Live Love TEKLIFE: Short, surprise-released album of excellent, soulful tunes reflecting on the Chicago producer’s recent travels. Those late to the game on footwork may want to peep, as this is low-key one of the genre’s best releases of the year. – DM

(4 Sails) (DJ Earl on Bandcamp)

Skylar Spence – Prom King: This guy started out making mediocre, apolitical vaporwave as Saint Pepsi before refining his style into the sample-heavy house variety known as future funk on Hit Vibes. PepsiCo cease-and-desisted him into changing his pseudonym, and now we have this debut album for Carpark, who also represent the very-similar Toro y Moi. Prom King retains much of what made Hit Vibes fun and interesting and tacks on some passable vocals with lyrics about nothing in particular. I expect it to be very popular on Tumblr. – DM

(3.5 Sails) (Skylar Spence on Soundcloud)

2814 – 新しい日の誕生: Speaking of vaporwave, here’s a release that straddles the line between the sample-heavy genre and straight-up ambient. Certainly sounds very pleasant, and certainly better than much of the last two years of amateur genre imitators (Skylar included), but needs a little more conceptual depth to amount to anything else. Title translates to “The Birth of a New Day.” – DM

(3.5 Sails.) (2814 on Bandcamp)

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