Ought should be an easy sell to mainstream indie heads. A new-to-most band from Montreal but featuring no Canadian members, that sounds a bit like Talking Heads had they been birthed in the aftermath of The Strokes’ breakthrough. They’re a little like Wolf Parade, with their quirks and creases, their unpredictable pivots. They’re a little like Arcade Fire, if they stripped away the artifice and focused solely on making people sweat.
The foursome issued a fantastic album earlier in 2014, ‘More Than Any Other Day’ – look, here’s a 9/10 review. I named it my favourite album of the year at the halfway stage and very little released since has touched it for immediate impression and ultimate longevity. It goes on with regularity today, and I still find myself lost within its now recognisable confines, even though I’ve mapped its trajectories two dozen times over.
‘Once More With Feeling’ is a companion piece to that LP – a four-track EP that runs for the best part of 25 minutes and possesses more depth, more intrigue, than most full-lengths running to twice as long. It’s new but not, with two of the songs here – ‘New Calm Pt 2’ and ‘Pill’ – having previously appeared on the band’s pre-album ‘New Calm’ EP of 2012 (which you can listen to, and download for whatever price you like, here). The ‘Once More With Feeling’ versions – as the EP title duly implies – are louder, faster, livelier beings though, with ‘New Calm Pt 2’ in particular driven at a speed the 2012 version would find terrifying. Brakes broken, all downhill.
With its accompanying video (below), and as the longest number, it’s ‘New Calm Pt 2’ that serves as this EP’s centrepiece. It’s eminently quotable, too: “Who invited Paul Simon?” asks frontman Tim Beeler just before a minute in, for reasons known only to him. “I didn’t invite him!” You’d brandish the non-sequitur card the way of this quartet, but such is their evident passion that even when Beeler’s spouting what might well be arbitrary phrases just popping into his mind, you can’t doubt the sincerity of their delivery for one second. Images are solid, the rhetoric real.
Topping and tailing the EP is ‘Pill’ and ‘Waiting’. The opener is an almost Low-like slow-core examination of a drugs experience – “I took a drug for you… A funny thing, escaping reality, to find a common place…” – that, given the details, is more than likely a very real memory for the storyteller. The song does spark into a riot of riffs and punchy percussion for its final minute, but it’s always kept in check by a locked-tight groove that doesn’t wander from a considered path.
‘Waiting’ ups the tempo but retains this band’s mastery of measurement – even when Beeler teeters at the edge of utterly losing it, the music around him keeps the song steady. It’s control at the very end of understanding, each member letting the moment flow through them but forever pulling the complete picture back from potential disaster and dismemberment. And that’s the purest joy of Ought’s music: it sounds like it could fall apart at any time, that every second of its existence is a precarious balancing act between raw passion and remarkable poise.
“Hear me, now, that I am dead inside.” Yet this band is everything but, and an easy sell indeed given even cursory exposure. We should all be feeling this together, now.
Words: Mike Diver
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Related: Next Wave: Ought