Room Inside the World is the much anticipated third album from Ought, a four piece art punk band whose previous albums, More Than Any Other Day (2014) and Sun Coming Down (2015) achieved immense critical acclaim. So after a three-year wait, the weight of expectations could understandably prove to be too much. However, the Montreal natives rise to the occasion, delivering some inspired results.
“Into The Sea” dives straight in with Tim Darcy’s brooding baritone and chorus effected piano chords providing a launching pad for the suitably upbeat yet strikingly bizarre opener. It’s apparent from the outset that this album has a greater depth and space to its mix than its predecessors. A lovely, snappy drum tone propels the track forward in a stumbling yet purposeful fashion. The electric guitar at times mirrors and supports Darcy’s unusual vocal melodies, at other times fills the void left by the bass and at other times serves to flesh out the song. The seemingly disorderly and disparate approach by the band elicits the imagery of the album cover – broad brush strokes, ebbing and flowing and taking you in different directions at whim.
“Disgraced In America” takes on a more traditional modern rock vibe at the start, with a driving drum and clean electric guitar pattern which is somewhat reminiscent of “The Bucket” by Kings of Leon. However, the song suddenly and fantastically derails, slipping down a tone into an alternate scene, with the instruments punctuating each and every beat. After six bars, the song returns to its original sunny disposition, as though nothing has happened. The formula repeats, but with each cycle subtly adding additional bars of tension. In the final round, sixteen bars are underscored by an energetic drum solo to lead into an extended outro.
“Disaffection” is a brilliant, danceable song which takes on a distinct krautrock vibe. With relatable sentiment such as “these city streets keep me boxed up and alone,” as well as familiar, upbeat instrumentation, this is a song which would not feel out of place in a DJ set at an indie rock night featuring songs such as “Hallogallo” from Neu!’s seminal 1971 debut – indeed, the drum fills are near identical. “These 3 Things” features an electronic drum beat and a predictable bass line. “Will I hear my soul,” asks Darcy repeatedly to no response, later pronouncing “I must remember to dance with you tonight, I must remember I own my heart.” With stabbing string instrumentation and splashes of synthesizer, it’s possibly the most conventional song on the album so far, and thus a good entry point for the casual listener. However, it’s let down by the stream-of-consciousness lyrics which Darcy sings in a woe-is-me, Ian Curtis fashion.
“Desire” starts with a harp-like synthesizer and uneasy atmospheric effects. It’s a mesmerising ballad with a slow build introducing a female choir singing “never gonna stay” at the midway point. A free-form saxophone solo appears for a brief moment, before the band affords the song some meditative space towards the end, allowing the instrument parts to run their due course. “Brief Shield” returns to the art rock sensibilities displayed in the album opener. It’s a sleepy track, punctuated by dissonant tones, which feels simultaneously unremarkable and yet oddly compelling.
“Take Everything” is certainly among the album’s highlights. It starts with broken chords played by keys and guitar, with an unsteady 6/8 drum pattern. The direction and key become clear only when the vocals enter. At the 1:33 mark, the band suddenly and unexpectedly lock into a driving 4/4 rock groove, with Darcy aptly singing “I am a little bit freaked out” and with angular electric guitar interjecting. The song finds its way naturally back to the original 6/8 feel and stays there, a suspended keyboard chord rounding out the track. “Pieces Wasted” changes tack, adopting a creeping aesthetic in the verses and a largely instrumental, hopeful yet crepuscular chorus. Around the 2:36 mark, for a brief moment, the song cleverly hints at what will appear in the outro a minute later. The outro starts by sounding dreamlike and optimistic but soon dissolves into a nightmarish feeling, with sustained strings and dissonant guitar and synth noise overlayed by distant vocals. The down-tempo album closer, “Alice” starts with effected keyboard chords and features a slinky, unison guitar and vocal melody. The bass drops away in the space one expects the chorus, to again reveal sustained strings and even more distant vocals which carry the track out in a mesmerising, wavelike quality.
Room Inside the World makes for an intriguing and captivating listen. While carving out their own unique path and sound through experimentation, Ought never stray too far from a familiar grounding set by their post-punk predecessors. Their previous albums have achieved critical acclaim and this one will no doubt follow suit, pleasing fans and critics alike.