You ought to listen to Ought
Matt McMahon | Monday, November 3, 2014
The songs on “Once More With Feeling…” seem to start in the middle of their runtime. Jarring from their onset with fully-formed ideas despite just beginning, it’s as if the band works its way up to completely developed themes and then, and only then, hits record. The tracks on “Once More” begin with already-established structures that maintain force and relentlessly drive through each song’s entirety. Ought, a post-punk quartet from Montreal, doesn’t have time to waste on niceties or introductions — their time is now, and they need every second of it.
Painfully cognizant of this, lead singer and guitarist Tim Beeler mumbles, “How long you been waiting, how long you been waiting?” on the accurately named closing track “Waiting.” He delivers the repeated line so blasély, like he can’t be bothered to open and close his mouth, that the phrase nearly melds into a single, meaningless word. Beeler’s vocals, reminiscent of an angstier David Byrne answering uninteresting, interrogatory questions from his parents, provide much of the urgency in Ought’s sound — perhaps counter-intuitively.
Tellingly, the band lists its music under the genre “post-haste,” which can be dissected in two conflicting but both applicable forms: acting with great speed: “posthaste,” or transcending beyond the concept of speed: “post-haste.” Ought manage to consistently inhabit both definitions, taking longwinded explorations into unnerving minor tones that simmer under and crash over direct, punchy dialog.
Nevertheless, constants remain; Beeler wears his emotions on his sleeve or, more precisely, his tongue. When he doesn’t care, he becomes dismissive and nearly incomprehensible. But when he talk-sings concerning something he feels strongly about — take his shaky, unhinged improvs in the closing of “New Calm Pt. 2” — he can incite a riot with his conviction. Beeler often demonstrates this range completely within individual songs, his performances mirroring the group’s holistic ability to transform a track over its playtime.
Lead track “Pill,” probably strategically chosen as such due to its immediate strength, builds upon where the band left off in April with its debut album “More Than Any Other Day.” The new song recalls the intros of the previous album’s two biggest tracks, “Today More Than Any Other Day” and “Habit” — staggering through sluggish, but with tight drums and moody, slowly strummed chords. However, in “Pill,” the band explores this familiar concept by extending it for nearly the length of the five-and-a-half-minute song.
The restraint shown here adds another layer to the band’s affected personality, creating atmosphere-piercing tension — aided by a false release and an “Abbey Road” timbre, organ-like keyboard accompaniment. And once the band does succumb to a climax, it’s much less a bang and more a swell. The intro’s elements remain apparent, identifiable in a neat spiraling out towards the coda rather than untraceable due to a base sophomoric instrumental explosion.
The similarities to Ought’s previous releases run deep across the brooding 24 minutes of “Once More.” Closing track “Waiting” heavily recalls “The Weather Song“ from “More Than Any Other Day,” but, unlike the latter, may be the most straightforward track the band has recorded thus far. The denser “New Calm Pt. 2” and “New Calm Pt. 3” reference the band’s seminal, self-released EP “New Calm,” which features earlier takes of some tracks later included in both their LP and new EP. These two tracks run long, even in the context of the EP, meandering in their journeys from Point A to Point B. They are considerably experimental in construction, with Ought electing to sandwich both a very post-haste violin riff outro and Beeler freak-out in between their more upfront, posthaste bookends.
Including vocal cues and deliberate talky sections that explicitly address the listener, the EP sparks a personal and intimate tone. Ought’s writing style is poignant and incorporates meta touches, sometimes referring to the songs themselves. This can be heard most immediately during the opening to “New Calm Pt. 2,” when Beeler, before the song’s first line, asides, “I love this one,” as his band mates come in and then later when he points out his own refrain. Coupled with his jaded lyricism and tongue-in-cheek approach, Beeler resides in the same sphere as Parquet Court’s Andrew Savage, indie veteran Stephen Malkmus, Courtney Barnett and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, while adding a touch of something like Mark Kozelek’s layered reflective storytelling.
“Once More With Feeling…,” like “More Than Any Other Day,” emits a potpourri grab bag of influences. However, as they did with their first album, Ought crafts its own uniquely distinct voice inhabiting a new, rigid space tangent to its predecessors — and to much of modern music.