On their third album, and first for Merge records, Ought augment their anxious, itchy alt-rock with a wider palette of instrumental colours, balancing the agitated highs of earlier records with moments of emotional numbness and tired acceptance.
The woozy piano chords which introduce ‘Into the Sea’ establish the introspective mood from the outset. Singer Tim Darcy wearily intones ‘I see the stain in the people now,’ the resignation of his vocals weighing heavily on an increasingly active rhythm section of acidic, circuitous guitars and jittering drums. Conversely, the arpeggiated synth figures of album centrepiece ‘Desire’ set an appropriately wistful tone for the songs description of transience and vulnerability, a 70-piece choir lending a hymnal quality as the vocals climb to the impassioned chorus of ‘Desire, desire, it was never gonna stay.’
The taut nervosa of earlier albums is still very much in evidence – see the central section of ‘Take Everything,’ where alarm call guitars bark over a juddering, breezeblock groove. Or ‘Disaffection,’ where a corroded saw wave abruptly severs the flow and precipitates a series of traumatised guitar twitches. The familiar Ought touchstones – Sonic Youth, Talking Heads, Echo and the Bunnymen – have been supplemented, not replaced. Propulsive single ‘These Three Things’ winks at Kate Bush, Stereolab synths creep into the familiar thickets of jangling guitars, a keening coda of ghostly Rhodes and moaning feedback collapses the garrulous rant of ‘Disgraced in America.’
‘Disaffection is holy, it makes me feel alive’ asserts Darcy repeatedly on one track, ‘Demarcation wears me thin…does me in’ form the concluding lyrics of another. On ‘These Three Things’ the chorus consists of the same anxious, increasingly urgent question: ‘Will I Hear My Soul?’ Despite the increased stylistic breadth of their music Ought’s world is clearly as disorientating and hostile as it ever was; raging against it can feel just as cathartic as it ever did. ‘Room Inside the World’ suggests that sometimes it can be just as valid a response to feel worn down by it.