Jan-Peter Westad reviews Ought’s sublime debut album
Ought are a band born out of student protest, various offshoots of punk and what their label, Constellation, describes as Montreal’s thriving ‘politically-engaged DIY arts community.’ Their first album More Than Any Other Day, released this April, catalogues the post-adolescent and postmodern anxieties of daily existence. Darting between laconic wit and electrifying energy, the mature debut record poses many questions but never loses touch with a sense of thriving creative optimism.
The members of Ought met at McGill University in Montreal; forming, like so many bands, through a group of friends and house mates playing together in the living room. Their base in Montreal’s art community with its spirit of “making for making’s sake” helped the band establish their recognisable but unique sound.
Ought’s political focal point was galvanised during the student protests in Quebec in 2012. Reminiscent of the UK’s protest against rising fees, the streets, at times, had hundreds of thousands of people protesting together. The combination of working bad jobs and the magnitude of what the band describe, in an interview with Under the Radar Mag, as a ‘lid-off type of situation’ in the protests results in their depiction of existence where we are at once insignificant but also can be part of bigger events and moments. This troubling contrast finds its outlet in their frenzied, energetic and very human record.
Beeler constantly juxtaposes the darker almost maniacal anxieties with the recognisable and quotidian; depicting those occasional moments of a sudden awareness of our minuscule role in the world we interact with
More Than Any Other Day constantly dances through different paces and volumes. The opening track ‘Pleasant Heart’ punches with an abrasive layering of barbed noise that levels itself in chaotic ruckus presided over by Tim Beeler’s yowling and screams of ‘when you’re living in the shadows.’
This moody, emotive opener is full of itchy angst, but is met with the slower deliberation of the “almost” title track, ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’. This track builds on alluring baselines and Beeler’s reticent words ‘we’re sinking deeper’ before plateauing with an assured positivity, combining jangling energy with some of Beeler’s most enjoyable, and always understated wit: ‘and today/ more than any other day/ I am prepared/ to make the decision/ between 2%/ and whole milk.’ Beeler constantly juxtaposes the darker almost maniacal anxieties with the recognisable and quotidian; depicting those occasional moments of a sudden awareness of our minuscule role in the world we interact with.
This more sardonic and colloquial style has seen constant comparisons to David Byrne, of The Talking Heads, and comes to the fore on the more studio sounding song ‘Habit.’ The track looks into the psyche of the challenges of trying to express oneself; coupling tighter guitar melodies with the whispering and ethereal violin of Tim Keen. However, Ought aren’t trying to isolate, they are trying to invite, shown by the final rasping words ‘we’re all the f*cking same’.
The band never fall into obvious and tired melodrama of angsty youths shown by the tounge-in-cheek and overblown malaise of ‘The Weather Song.’ Demands such as: ‘tell me what the weather’s like/ so I don’t have to go outside’ and declarations of ‘we won’t take it anymore’ soar over more accessible upbeat drumming and glib chords.
The final track ‘Gemini’ returns to a more frenzied unadulterated loudness that encompasses how any frustrations are thrashed out through their music as Beeler’s yells remind us how everyone is, at the end of the day, ‘one of a kind’: unique and different but also part of something a little bit bigger.
The attraction of Ought is that they relay existence in a personable and recognizable way. They highlight the sense that things aren’t quite right but never shove specific ideas down your throat. Instead they take these juxtaposing frustrations and hopes and channel them through their instruments, making the music itself incredibly energized and intimate: critical but also optimistic.
Ought have new EP ‘Once More With Feeling…’ out on October 28th and are playing at Scala in King’s Cross on November 16th.
Featured image credit: Bygone