Montreal based four-piece rock group Ought has been playing what has been unanimously described as post-punk revival since they formed in 2012. Their first two studio albums, “More Than Any Other Day” (2014) and “Sun Coming Down” (2015) were met with high critical praise, earning them a strong international audience. Front man Tim Darcy released a solo album earlier in 2017, and the group now turns towards a third album, “Room Inside the World,” slated for early 2018.
The stage at The Royal American was an odd one for Ought, as the group struggled to find the best way to fit all five members and their gear (thanks to the addition of an additional touring band mate). Frontman Tim Darcy stood behind the bar looking a bit confused before hoisting himself onto the table, which stood as a makeshift stage. They had to sacrifice some equipment, somewhat limiting their set list for the night, but the band chose to embrace the situation rather than become stuck in it. As the middle act of the night, Ought’s set was a highlight of their previous two records, and a greatest hits of what makes this Montreal based group so extraordinary.
Darcy’s flippant vocals are the highlight of Ought’s music, his poignantly witty lyricism conveyed through unique vocal delivery. He swung around the stage, slinging his guitar and adjusting his microphone with theatrical restlessness. With Darcy channeling so much of David Byrne from his vocal style to his on-stage antics, comparisons with the Talking Heads are inevitable. However, it is unfair to paint Darcy as an imitator. His voice may be reminiscent, but it is distinctly his. As he carries himself through his always questioning lyrics of optimism and dread, he juggles his own brand of swagger and goofiness. Through songs such as “Habit” and “Sun Coming Down,” he tackles subjects of addiction and emptiness, all the while pushing lights and dancing emotively.
Although Darcy is the focal point, something about bassist Ben Stideworthy’s performance seems so inherent to the show. Stideworthy plays with a matchless cool, serving as a backbone to the performance the same way his evocative hooks do on the band’s records. He stood side by side with Darcy on the edge of the stage, the two contrasted in aesthetic and performance, yet perfect compliments to each other.
The short performance left audience members only wanting more, featuring a track from the upcoming record and eventually ending with the jovially grim “Beautiful Blue Sky.” The closing track built over seven minutes with audience members singing as Darcy smirked and danced along, pleasing fans and gaining the attention of those who had never heard their brand of post-punk revival.
Ought’s new synth-laden single “These 3 Things” is their first released track off of the upcoming Room Inside the World, and has the group engaging in uncharted territory. Most obviously is the heavy addition of synthesizers and drum machines. The work of keyboardist Matt May builds an new style for the group, clearly evocative of the band’s influence by 80s new wave groups. A past component newly prominent is the sounds of drummer Tim Keen’s violin, which were often featured but typically overlooked in the group’s past work. Even Darcy’s voice is unfamiliar, with a style entirely different from any past works of his with Ought or otherwise. Still, as Darcy pleads “Will I hear my soul?” it is undeniably him, as he contorts his voice in an effort to understand these three things, their identity hidden from us. The album is a much more in studio effort Darcy commented, saying how the producer was much more involved than their previous releases, as he considered Room Inside the World unlike anything else the group has released.
Ought’s third studio album Room Inside the World is out February 16, 2017 on Merge records. Check out the music video for “These 3 Things” below.
By Jackson Tucker