Revolutions never begin with whispers. On their sharp-witted debut, More Than Any Other Day, Montréal-based post-punk Ought posited self-reflection as a series of rallying cries that could easily rile up the most meditative of basement parties; frontman Tim Darcy and crew stressed the conversational tone of post-punk but assumed the role of self-deprecating worrywarts. Amidst their constant me-versus-you debacles, they ridiculed and diminished human’s addictive fixations in standout “Habit” and dined with risk and juvenile fear on “Around Again.” The following year, Sun Coming Down curtailed their sardonic self-obsession with wavering anger toward our social institutions delivered under the same biting pretenses as its predecessor. Ought have made themselves out to be a companionable force within range of answering life’s pressing questions one scrappy anthem at a time.
Unwilling to cut their maturation short of their zenith, it’s only appropriate that their third effort connects their skeptical ethos with the global complications of our times. Room Inside the World is far from a concise statement handing out solutions, decisively muddled by Darcy’s subtle and often disorienting songwriting, but that’s customary at this point. As for their typically sinewy resonance, the band has enlisted veteran engineer Nicolas Vernhes of Deerhunter and Animal Collective fame to man the controls and augment their minimal line-up with flashy organs, strings section, and a sort of cocktail lounge space in place of their previous cluttered recording environment. Reading between their scribbled lines and paring down their opulent advancement in sound, there’s a theatric and rigidly idyllic atmosphere this time around that incorporate the same overtures sprinkled in the discographies of absurdist companions like Parquet Courts or pitiless dramatists like Iceage. Unlike their peers, Ought never contended to neatening their expression from low-fidelity distractions; instead of speculating as to what the hell Darcy could be saying, it’s his implications and convictions that require a cross-examination or two.
Album promotion cycles suggest that a final product’s merrier or more straightforward numbers take precedent as singles, but Ought’s morose choice-cuts attest to something foreboding with Room Inside the World. As an introductory gesture, “These 3 Things” isn’t forthright counter to any selection in their recorded works. With its drum machine beat wrestling the handicraft away from beatmaker Tim Keen and Ultravox-inspired synth splatters, it’s a revolution that instills a newfound language the four-piece attempts to translate with growing confidence. Much of this boldness feels left over from Darcy’s solo debut, Saturday Night, a self-described roots record that seemed to trigger a relapse and total makeover for his main project. The romanticism, on the other hand, is more direct and immersive, as evident in the trailing lines of “These 3 Things”: “I must remember to dance with you tonight / I must remember I owe my heart.”
The lack of constant navel-gazing will undoubtedly bookend their discography to some degree, but Ought aren’t rushing into things without ensuring they’re as precise as possible in the process. In the past, Darcy’s sensationalism evoked the same sort of smartass convictions a wide-eyed coffeehouse dweller would wield—now, they feel drowned in a hedonist’s sorrow. “Feel disdain in people now / Deep dark grey fades into blue,” Darcy croons in the piano-lead introduction of “Into the Sea,” moments away from a premature climax of compressed drum marches and angular guitars crashes through. Almost facetiously, Darcy swings back on the loquaciously sentimental “Desire” with his senses refreshed and undivided vengeance trapped in his intentions (“I won’t accept the conceit any further / I will return it to you in a fervor”). As a consequence, their footing might seem out of proportion, especially in the lenses of veteran listeners bargaining for the ramshackle monologues and head-scratchers expected from the group.
As if expending all of their employable energy in the first half, the latter four numbers strip down as if to prematurely entreat listeners to intoxicating melodies. “Brief Shield” renounces every exemplar of vivacity in a heavenly blend of slowcore and broody post-punk, the sort of effect achieved by slowing down a Durutti Column master tape and tampering with the mix to reassemble a passage from the Church’s Starfish. Embarking on a breezy, otherwise sluggish indie pulse on “Pieces Wasted,” it’s not long until each gyrating and grating voice, except for Ben Stidworthy’s steely basslines, falls out of place and chokes up the soundscape into droning gunk. Room Inside the World concludes with such an ostensible drop in sparkle that brings the band’s motives into question; if they’ve arranged for an album that half parts melodic vitality with an experimental streak unvisited in previous works, the effort is undeniably compelling to some extent. Under the surface, its straightforwardness warrants an appraisal that eulogizes the stamina of Ought’s past and forecasts something more significant on the horizon for the band to tackle.