opinion byBRENDAN FRANK
Despite forming Ought two years ago as university students, vocalist/guitarist Tim Beeler, keyboardist Matt May, bassist Ben Stidworthy and drummer /violinist Tim Keen have already cultivated a definitive identity and a vast rock vocabulary. Their debut album is a minor wonder, impeccably assimilating the angles-and-elbows art punk of the late 70s with eccentric indie acts like Wolf Parade and Parquet Courts.
But in keeping with the best of what modern guitar music has to offer, Ought bring to mind a good number of bands without letting their resemblances become a distraction. Even those with sharp associative abilities would be forced to overlook what is some precocious, explosive songwriting. Split evenly between growers and instantly gratifying jams, More Than Any Other Day is all raw thrills and shot nerves, delivered in a fresh, clever and oddly personable manner.
Ought have an air of informed idealism about them, as if they’ve experienced enough to know better and still can’t quite let go of their convictions. Beeler’s talky, brittle tone immediately brings to mind Television’s Tom Verlaine. He also possesses a similar learned self-awareness that prevents his moral ambiguity from becoming overrun with dread or solipsism. True to character, he has a tendency to hedge his bets, as evidenced by the instantly classic lyric on curtain call “Gemini”: “I retain the right to be disgusted by life/I retain the right to be in love with everything in sight”.
Many of Beeler’s lyrics touch on the nature of power and privilege, a pattern that entrenches itself right from the chaotic clamor on “Pleasant Heart”: “When you’re living in the shell/Screaming ‘how to I get out?’”. It’s not all so subtle, though. Some of the one-liners on here are thinly-veiled threats at best, like the cry out against hegemony on the scorching “Clarity”: “You think you were born powerful and you want to stay that way?”
Ought's philosophical indignation is measured and considered. By contrast, their music, full of staccato jabs and healthy doses of reverb, hits head on. There’s a nervous exhilaration that runs through every note. There’s the jittery melodicism of standout track “The Weather Song”, the plaintive sway of “Habit”, the bipolar salvo of the title track. The only track that doesn’t land a clean punch is “Forgiveness”, which grazes against its post-rock influences without delving in as deep as it should.
Moments of jubilant righteousness are littered throughout More Than Any Other Day. It’s all you can do to tell when a glowing ember will erupt into a conflagration. Ought are as much defined by their edgy, volatile temperament as their ability to span musical history and emerge with a work that belongs squarely in the year 2014. They may be a conflicted bunch, but boy, do they ever make a magnificent racket. B+