Albums, Music, The Revue — February 19, 2018 at 5:05 am

Ought – ‘Room Inside the World’ (album review)


Anyone who has either read the Marvel comic books or watched the 18 films in its canon – the latest being Black Panther – knows that each character’s story eventually converges with the other superheroes to create a single universe. Montreal imaginative indie-rockers Ought have adopted a similar approach, although within a more manageable size of projects.

Their first two albums firmly established them as one of indie rock’s most adventurous bands. Their 2014 debut, More Than Any Other Day, and 2015’s Sun Coming Down were simultaneously challenging and compelling. Through their mixture of widescreen post-punk to experimental indie rock, the band were respectively the voices of protesting Quebec students and then the disenfranchised youth entering the workforce. On his excellent debut solo album, Saturday Night, Tim Darcy adopted the band’s experimentalism and applied it to crooning pop and old-school rock ‘n roll. The record, however, was more individually focused, as Darcy described how the world and people have become insular and seek shelter and security within the familiar. The three albums lead to Room Inside the World, which is another remarkable addition to Ought’s growing legend.

Room Inside the World is a kaleidoscope that sees the Montreal-based quartet reach far and wide for inspiration. Post-punk, new wave, alt-pop, folk-pop, and, of course, some crooner pop fill the LP. The non-linear approach is cleverly executed and perfectly complements the band’s observations, experiences, and journey in the surreal world in which we currently reside. The pensive “Into The Sea commences the expedition. Gleaming with the taut gloom of Preoccupations, Ought send us into the unforgiving abyss with Darcy’s throbbing vocals adding: “I see the stain in the people now. See the stain, and I will feel the stain in the people now.”

“Disaffection” continues the spiral descent. Akin to The Cure musically and thematically, Ought masterfully merge exhilaration with intoxication. As bassist Ben Stidworthy and drummer Tim Keen establish the unsettling background, Darcy describes how he remains “holed up”.

“Well here’s some medication, you can get it through the phone.
Disaffection is holy.
It makes me feel alive, a
nd I’ll do it again.
I’ll run a mile.”

In this dystopian place, there are moments of light. The solemn “Desire” is an unexpected love song done. It’s one part a classic, folk-pop ballad that tinges with Roy Orbison, and it’s another part groovy R&B a la Terence Trent d’Arby. For good measure, the band infuses some delicious horns and a 70-piece vocal choir to add a slice of cinema. Yet in typical Ought fashion, the track reflects how fleeting a memorable experience can be. On “These 3 Things”, which traverses the new wave fields that David Byrne and Talking Heads fertilized back in the ’70s and ’80s, the common relationship is turned into an event. Darcy, meanwhile, becomes a Gothic crooner, as his voice is a blend of Robert Smith and Marlon Williams. His lyrics are post-modern poetic, describing the claustrophobic world of one man and his deep desires.

Why does this all occur? Ought provide an answer on the dark and throbbing “Pieces Wasted”, which gets inside the mind of psychopathic dictator. The brilliant “Disgraced in America” offers another theory. The oft-kilter melodies, contrasting rhythms, and unexpected transitions heighten the song’s theme of misplaced priorities and the separation of humanity from nature. Specifically, the outfit tackles how the bottom line governs today’s world. Dividends, profits, and franchise expansions are the name of the game, and dollar signs and property lines (or “demarcations”), as such, must be pursued at all expense.

Money, though, cannot fill the void of human interaction, which is cleverly tackled on “Take Everything”. This slow-building number is Ought channeling their youth. Commencing methodically, the song grows into a thrilling, propulsive rocker. Lyrically, the song is a message to their younger selves.

“Sixteen and what have you found out.
Sweetly and a little bit stoned out,
Why do you give and not receive?
I am a little bit freaked out.
Why give but never go seek out?
Why do you hide behind the scenes?”

The silent menace of “Alice” closes the album. Through the post-apocalyptic yet gripping atmosphere, Darcy quietly sings, “I can’t see where we’re going. I wish I were somewhere else.” These two line encapsulate every part of Room Inside the World. The album in its various disguises captures the crumbling of the society around us and, thus, humanity. Our world today is even more chaotic and insecure than when the band first raised the issues four years ago. Unfortunately, there are no superheroes to save us from our self-inflicted wounds, but in Ought we have four individuals opening eyes and helping us take back what is ours.

Room Inside the World is out now via Merge Records (world) and Royal Mountain Records (Canada). Order and streaming links available here.

Ought are Tim Darcy (guitars/vocals), Matt May (keyboards), Ben Stidworthy (bass), and Tim Keen (drums/violin). They are on tour in March, and dates and information are available here.

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