On the title track off ‘Sun’s Coming Down’, Ought’s 2015 caustic second full-length, Tim Darcy snapshots Ought’s frenetic ethos. Their signature, snarling guitars provide the backdrop as Darcy vocalizes in a Mark E Smith twang. The song morphs and remoulds itself in one anxiety-ridden swoop. “These things we do/I can’t look them in the eye”. Ought never attempt to come to terms with the odious underbelly of the status-quo, they observe and move forward, much like the journey of their sound.
On their latest release ‘Room Inside the World’, we see the Montreal act draw back the spiky layers of guitars and, instead, imprint their songs with a refined new-wave delicacy. All without compromising the undercurrents of tension, Ought continue to poetically excavate beauty in the mundane.
In Darcy, Ought possess a vocalist, or wordsmith, with clear-eyed singularity. His off-brand elasticated diction has complemented their hair-raising brand of artful post-punk before, whereas here, his voice rises and falls with greater potency.
Tim Darcy has touched on fully-fledged warbling before, but never in this impassioned persuasion of baroque gleam. It was the logical next step after the release of his underrated ‘Saturday Nights’ LP last year. Parsing through his lyrics has always read like the internal monologues of a misunderstood poet; dense and knotty. His tendency for oblique, stream-of-consciousness lyrics has always fit snugly into their meandering discord. There’s even a heightened sense of melody, too.
On early song-of-the-year contender Desire, Darcy verses about a now estranged lover. “You’re like the moon in a basket of weeds/You run out of the roses, right under my mouth”. A gospel-like 70-piece choir are woven in around the 3-minute mark, it’s an experiment like none in their discography – bold, uplifting and magnificent. Affirmation flows throughout Room Inside the World.
Darcy beckons for you to hear his soul on hyperreal new-wave stunner These 3 Things. A kinetic drum machine builds like a steam-locomotive, a rising violin effect creates a sense of impending chaos. Spattered in synths, the slow build comes crashing to a halt. Ought sound inspired by less nebulous constructs like their previous work, here, they revel in glistening simplicity.
The band are born from a “revolutionary spirit of radicalism and adventure”, as keyboard player Matt May posited to the Guardian in 2015. They had first-hand witnessed the Maple Spring (a pun on Arab Spring), the huge 2012 Quebec student protests against rising tuition fees.
You can feel the simmering tensions, but ‘Room Inside the World’ is less reactionary and paranoiac than their past work. Disgraced in America is less a state-of-the-union, or polemics, it’s Darcy resigned to an old, out-of-town watch-tower. The views that trickle to him, he must report. The instrumental spasms, staggers and propulses violently, before evolving into something more liquid.
There’s self-reflective commentary on the confines of neo-liberalism and our unfettered fetishization of capital, “And what if I told you/What if I said/They built it themselves/And it feels so good.”
A switch in gender roles on Brief Shield has Darcy delineate the plight of women from a female gaze, noticeably, not from a man’s perspective. “Be my knight/I’ll be your lady in waiting” he sings, “The shadow on the land, it creeps on patient/The ugly years of violent men, too creep on” he whispers in the wind on this moving highlight. The gentle, swaying chord-changes, Darcy’s haunting cadence and a typically adventurous Ought outro are further signs of their versatility.
Tracks are still preened with idiosyncratic flourishes and venturing shifts, as examplified by the jolting Disaffectation. It starts with an inviting guitar line straight out of the The Smiths playbook, before it’s ruptured by jarring percussion and flittering static-like drones. Take Everything, the most traditionally Ought track here, is traditional only in it’s discordant transmogrification.
The auditory illusion of disarray and dread – backboned by noisy, disparate guitars – is subsumed into accessible pop-inspired post-punk, and, for lack of a better word, it’s beautiful.
Sinewed throughout is a desire to disrupt permanence and inertia. Avoiding truisms of love, this is as much an album about meaningful gestures and connectivity than anything truly transcendent. “Demarcation/See those lines interrupt,” Darcy sings on Disgraced in America, stretching his implacable diction to its limits. “Demarcation, wears me thin/Demarcation, does me in”.