With Ought’s third album Room Inside the World (the group’s Merge Records debut), the Montreal-based quartet traverses new musical ground while staying true to its basic take of metropolitan-weary, angst-ridden outlooks on life. The wry wittiness of frontman Tim Darcy’s lyrics also build on previous work.
More so than on Ought’s longplayer debut More Than Any Other Day (2014) and the sophomore effort Sun Coming Down (2015), the band offers greater amounts of beauty to counteract the ugliness that Darcy’s lyrics show the world — or at least the mind — has to offer. This happens within the lyrics themselves, as well as in the sometimes gorgeous sonic spaces with which the band experiments.
Perhaps the biggest change from Ought’s previous efforts is Darcy’s vocal approach. Gone is the Mark E. Smith by way of David Byrne talk-singing style, as Darcy stretches out, crooning and testing the limits of his vocal chords as never before. In “Desire,” for example, he goes for sincere delivery before breaking into an almost childish, teasing tone, and finishes off the song by hitting notes reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s plaintive wails from such albums as Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s a fine showcase that lets listeners know that Darcy has a growing confidence in his voice, but that he hasn’t lost touch with his sardonic side.
From the opening track “Into the Sea,” Ought announces a more mature and understated, but no less urgent, sound for the band, with Tim Keen’s energetic drumming, Darcy’s nuanced guitar, and Matt May’s piano work. Songs unfold patiently, sometimes gracefully, with subtle shades and hypnotic crescendos breathing in spaces where crashing cacophony had throbbed on the group’s previous efforts.
The biggest musical departure on Room Inside the World may be the first single, “These 3 Things,” a driving song with a danceable beat and synthesizer flourishes. “Disgraced in America” may at first seem like the catchiest song on the album thanks to its lively introduction, but as Darcy sings lyrics such as “I floated ‘round downtown/I floated ‘round Spain/I was like a dentist rooting for pain,” it is clear by the end of the song that that intro was merely a clever con to bring the listener into a typically Ought existential trip through malaise-ridden urban landscapes.
“Disaffectation” is another standout, one that may make some listeners think of The Cure, as Ben Stidworthy’s driving bass lines wind around Darcy’s earnest, higher-register vocals. “Take Everything” offers a mid-tempo beginning that lulls listeners in before kicking into a rollicking middle section boasting powerful chords, followed by a sweeping riff.
With Room Inside the World, Ought delivers its most accessible album so far without sounding commercial. It reminds this reviewer of when XTC broke new ground with its third outing Drums and Wires (1979) and when The Stranglers eschewed its raucous punk approach for the more melodic song craft of Feline (1983). This album is a bold statement from a band that has much to say, and that has decided to make its statements with different, artful musical techniques. Room Inside the World is a brilliant album that should help the band expand its fanbase.
Images courtesy of Jenna Ledger