Ought sounds like what would happen if David Byrne fronted the Velvet Underground. The front man, Tim Beeler Darcy, shouts satire out in a clear and defined groan, sometimes as if he’s speaking to you, while the band keeps it tight, drawing on post and pop-punk influences , lending Darcy’s voice a rhythm that constantly drives forward as the music swirls back in on itself.
Much of what post-punks do these days is a direct extension of the indie-rock foundations that Talking Heads laid down decades ago. The lyrics are sometimes clearly political, sometimes frustratingly abstract, but almost always reaching for some ubiquitous moment of daily life. Ought and the rest of the post-punks stand on the shoulders of Talking Heads, and they manage to reach just a little bit higher.
Think back about three decades, to when David Byrne gave us “Once in a Lifetime.” With the same conversational tone Darcy uses today, admittedly with a more dance-able beat, Byrne repeats “Same as it ever was.” over and over again, and begs the listener to look around themselves, eventually forcing the lister to ask, “My God, What have I done?” Byrne wants his audience to realize their path is not pre-determined, that they in fact chose to be where they are, in whatever particular moment the person is listening. Our ability to choose is what Byrne exposes. We see a privilege previously ignored, held up to the light, and celebrated. The monotony is made beautiful in song, a song we can and do dance to. When I dance to “Once in a Lifetime” I celebrate my mundane life, and my everyday choices. I love the fact that I am alive, with the time to listen to beautiful music. I look around at my friends, dancing, and I love them, and their choice to celebrate with me.
Ought draws heavily on this theme of beautiful monotony. “How’s the family?” Darcy asks in “Big Beauitful Sky”, again forcing the listener to reflect on how many times they’ve been asked that type of question, almost meaninglessly. Darcy holds that moment up to the light, and penetrates the immediate privilege contained in that question. To be in a place where that question is normal and repeated, where you are expected to have loving ties to people around you, is a place of deep safety and beauty, and that beauty is strangely forgotten simply because it surrounds us all the time. By repeating the question, Darcy exposes this forgetfulness, and reminds many hipsters that they are, in fact, blessed to be here, listening to indie-rock.
During the chorus Darcy shouts, “ And I am no longer afraid to dance / because that is all we have left / that and the big, beautiful sky.” which points to an even broader monotony, that of the big beautiful sky above, which is literally constantly beautiful. That lyric frames the song in much the same way the Big, Beautiful Sky frames our lives. We only notice it for brief moments, but always the sky is big, and beautiful, and we simply can’t appreciate that all the time. Darcy finds that he now has no problem celebrating, because celebrating the beauty in our everyday lives is important. It is not just ”all that we have left.“ It is all that we’ve ever had.
Perhaps we have not changed much in three decades. Perhaps the very nature of everyday beauty is that we expect it, and so, take it for granted. Ought has picked up on a musical lineage and mentality of asking these simple questions, dating back to the very beginning of indie-rock, and has made these question new again, which is just what we needed.