One of the joys of being into smaller bands — other than the fact that it makes you undeniably hip — is that their gigs are not curated with the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” dastardly world of A&R mentality, but with a fondness for a line-up that fits musically and crescendoes to the headliner.
This is not to say that Montreal (alt-)rock band Ought are small. Now touring their third critically acclaimed album ‘Room Inside the World’, the four-piece are used to packing out medium sized venues with fans who know their songs backwards. However, on the Leeds leg of their tour they’re billed alongside two bands who share their love of dissonance and strange song structure, and work to create an atmosphere that suits the headliner to a tee.
First-on was Mush, who have recently been on tour with The Wytches, had two singles out (Art is Hard Records, and Too Pure Singles Club), been in session with Marc Riley, recorded with Matt Peel, and were added to Rough Trade’s end of the year compilation in 2017. Needless to say, they’ve been busy, and it shows. The four-piece are cool and collected as they move through their set of angular, laid-back, discordant slacker-rock. ‘Comment Section Creeps’, their latest A-side, features teasing dissonant interplay of guitarists Dan and Tyson, laid over a Parquet Courtsesque rhythm section furrowed by Nick and Phil Porter. The internet-era lyrics pertain to a broader theme of the band’s engagement with today’s news and 21st century life, something explored on the driving and impressive ‘Alternative Facts’.
Drahla are the next Leeds-based act to take to the stage. The band have been gradually gathering momentum for some time, playing shows across the UK as well as in France and the Netherlands in recent months. Channelling a mix of The Breeders, Sonic Youth and Wire, the trio are uncompromising in their songwriting, and are at their best when Lucille Brown’s smooth, frank vocals accompany the band’s harsh grooves. Latest single ‘Silk Spirit’ thrives off Brown’s almost caustic guitar tones, driven by the commanding rhythm section of Rob Riggs and drummer Mikey Ainsley. Lyrically, Drahla are the odd band out in the line-up, and Brown offers abstracted lines that are poetic and elusive: ‘a Japanese river, blowing itself from the sky’. There is an impressive boldness to the trio; they’re far removed from the burgeoning post-punk scene, and their confidence to belie conventional melody is hugely rewarding.
The support acts are perfectly geared for fans of Ought, who also share a zest for discordance and unconventional song structure. Their first two albums were praised for their jaunty, unforgiving, and biting tracks, as well as for Tim Darcy’s poetics that lay bare the banality of everyday life. Room Inside the World retains this aspect of social commentary, yet leaves some of Ought’s discordance behind in favour of a choir and a heightened sagacity.
Darcy begins proceedings with the sacrosanct utterances of ‘Into the Sea’, and we’re treated to our first glimpse of a new style of Ought, where feigned chaos and Darcy’s twang have been replaced with magisterial vocals and a more orthodox approach to songwriting. A mutual appreciation is established early on, as Darcy hails the prestige of the Brudunell, and the crowd folds to the jangling chords of ‘Disgraced in America’. ‘Desire’ is welcomed with a shout and a cheer, the crowd later working to fill in the absence of the studio choir, indulging in the pessimistic chant of ‘desire . . . is never gonna stay’.
They’re a great live band to watch. Bassist Ben Stidworthy stands staring at the crowd as he plays, shoulders contorted into a slant, while keyboard player Matt May head-bops with aplomb. However, it is Darcy that is most engaging to watch. He commands the stage with frantic energy, pointing an accusatory finger at the audience and tilting his head with every word he sings. It’s hard to take your eyes off the tall, lean lead-singer as he shouts that ‘disaffectation is holy’, emotion emanating from the creases on his face.
They treat the crowd by speeding through classics ‘Men for Miles’ and ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ from their sophomore album Sun Coming Down, as well as ‘Habit’ and ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’ from their debut. All are met with cries of appreciation, and as Darcy sings the precursor ‘OK, here we go!’, before his long and light hearted list of day chores (‘I am prepared to make the decision between 2% and whole milk’), someone throws their drink in the air and cuts loose.
The evening serves as a perfect representation of the natural continuation of their material, as they move between old and new songs seamlessly. It’s something good to see, especially given that Room Inside the World marks a divergence in production and texture to their last albums, and proves Ought’s ability to grow whilst retaining an edge that continues to captivate audiences.
Catch Ought back in the UK as they join Hookworms on tour after summer.