Ought - Room Inside the World
by Ben Gladman
Montreal band Ought have been producing some of the most exciting and unique music I know since 2014’s debut More Than Any Other Day. Their songs are never predictable, and their generic influences wander from post-punk to jangle-pop. Lyrically, the band have always struck a chord with me for their paranoid candour, and their satirical take on suburbia; lines like “Beautiful weather today, how’s the job, how’s the family, fancy seeing you here” from Beautiful Blue Sky sit among similar lyrics from the Talking Heads as spot-on deconstructions of mind-numbing small talk.
Unlike these lyrics, however, those on the new record tackle more personal topics. Into The Sea, Disaffectation, These 3 Things - among others – seem to chronicle feelings that, if not definitively depressive, certainly broach the topic. “It’s a feeling like falling, it’s lonely / And I can’t see floor through my feet again”, singer Tim Darcy croons in Into The Sea. Darker still, on Disaffectation he barks, “Disaffectation is holy, it makes me feel alive”. These days he is less interested in how the repetitive nature of work grinds you down, and more interested in how it feels to be down there.
Sometimes this feels like an odd fit with their sonic conventions; the content in their first two albums fit almost too perfectly, slowly building structures and metronomic drum and bass parts speaking for these themes of boredom almost as much as the lyrics. In fairness, this album is much more melodic than anything they have put out up till now, not that it is particularly catchy in a conventional sense; if you were to tell a casual pop listener that this was the least repetitive album of their career, they would laugh you off.
To my surprise, though, it is a style that suits them remarkably well. I’m not sure if I like it quite as much as that of their first two albums, but it certainly still holds many surprises. Perhaps most pleasing of all is standout track Desire. Here, Ought show an almost entirely new side to their music. Though still lyrically dense and abstract, it is a real tender moment. Darcy puts away his affected yelp for the opening couple of lines at least, and some of the most straightforward, lovelorn lyrics play out over cleanly strummed chords. There’s even a choral backing at the end – so many voices chanting the refrain “Desire, desire, it was never going to stay” hit hard, especially with a song like Brief Shield coming directly after (a rather boring plod that I suppose at least gives you time to reflect on the marvel you’ve just heard).
On the whole, Room Inside the World is a great record. It may take a couple of listens to begin to grasp, as the melodies don’t take hold immediately, but when you do you will see that it was well worth your time. In today’s increasingly referential pop-culture environment, Ought remain a breath of fresh air who do their own thing, and do it with panache.