Photo: Jenna Ledger
Montreal-based post/art-rock band Ought return with their third album Room Inside the World, recorded at Rare Book Room in Brooklyn with producer Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter and Animal Collective). It moves away from astute observations on the tediousness of everyday life found in their first two LPs, to a powerful lamentation of a political climate fraught like never before. Having taken a year out for frontman Tim Darcy to work on his introspective solo album Saturday Night, the band have revived their jagged guitar sounds, mis-matched time signatures and discordant chords to usher in an album of sagacious songwriting and maturity.
Darcy’s lyrics are more overtly political than before, and the opening track sets a tone that is held throughout – one of discombobulation, of unrest, of a “feeling, like falling”. ‘Into the Sea’ expresses the bewildered state of much of the American populace — Darcy himself is from Arizona — where those who voted for Trump, and those who didn’t, have become disillusioned in the year that’s followed. It’s affected both their day-to-day lives and their inner selves: “See the stain in the people now / see the stain in our will”, and it’s provided Ought with a new social terrain on which to ply their acerbic post-punk politics.
Second single, ‘Disgraced In America’, falls into the vein of Sun Coming Down, ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ Ought, as it comments on the way that those who control the economy are abstracted from the real, and natural world. Darcy preaches a sense of alienation as he comments that, “Birds fly around while the dividends pay / Birds fly around while I’m picking up change”. The song is an ordered piece of chaos that crescendoes alongside the singer’s fine-tuned, sacrosanct vocals, as he moves through the mid and upper echelons of pitch with aplomb, evoking a Loft-era Pete Astor or a Teardrop Explodes Julian Cope.
‘Disaffectation’ similarly harks back to eighties post-punk/indie with its chorus laden guitar riffs and theatrical vocals that are built up only to be fragmented by a classic Ought interruption, where time signatures are cleverly confused through erratic drums, jagged chords and dark electronic bass. Darcy’s vocals quickly move from angelic, almost pastoral, to angry and sour, resuming his vitriol, shouting bitterly that “dissaffectation keeps me holy!”.
Latest single ‘Desire’ evokes the themes found on Saturday Night, instead focussing on the minor details of human affection, most notable on the simple but beautifully evocative line: “You smiled so much you got creases on your face / The kind that give you grace”. The track is a welcome relent from the potency of their cynical realism, and proves Ought’s ability to reign in their scornful Weltanschauung for a moment of transient affection.
Nonetheless, while the lyrics point to a nation filled with divisions, Ought do not merely observe and comment, but seek to highlight the necessity of exploring the goodness in people, to tear down the privy boundaries between one another. ‘Room Inside the World’ is cathartic in a sense, it is the coming to terms with and then the eschewing of, the shit-storm of 2017, and is beautiful because of that. Ought have understood the temper of the times and have put forward an argument for empathy as our salvation — if anyone can save us, they can.
Stream or purchase the album on Bandcamp.