Of all the transcendent magical qualities music possesses, nothing quite surpasses the two totem poles imperfectly balanced at each end of its joyful spectrum: the uncensored emotions that overcome the soul when hearing your most treasured sonic loves and the spine-tingling way something entirely new and out of your grasp can creep up on you.
Montreal band Ought fall into the latter category for me. Their opening gambit from upcoming debut record More Than Any Other Day, the rushing crescendo “Habit”, is one of the most assured and exciting single releases of the year so far. Punctuated by euphoric peaks and clear spoken passages, this song burrows deep into your heart rather than mind, feeding our habit as human beings for something that connects with the spirit, not just your ears.
Ought have an aura of classicism about them, with allusions to CBGB era acts like Patti Smith and the art rock poetry of Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground and Jim Morrison – the bass driven melody and winding guitars on “Habit” would even sit comfortably on Marquee Moon. Unfortunately, classicism is a dirty word in modern music.
People no longer accept that the avant garde nature of 60s and 70s guitar music can be included in the pool of inspiration to be dipped into. Despite this, Ought have managed to craft a song with emotional clarity, interpretative meaning and a restructuring of originality; they’ve successfully re-purposed music with obvious temporal links into something fresh, something many modern bands fail to do. As so many people forget, forward thinking ideas can remain forward thinking.
It is for this reason that I was so pleasantly surprised when I listened to “Habit”. The impassioned lyrics are at times more like dialogue than vocals, and at others, more like distressed pleas. As the song gallops unbridled to its close, the chains off, and the ambiguous metaphor of the habit that has been formed – love, drugs, something more? – pouring out. Unlike frontman Tim Beeler’s actual words of “unspecific parties” and “unspecific cities”, the effect those words have are very specific to who is listening.
The song rolls on, every second something unnameable but identifiable filling you up until it feels like your heart will burst, only for Ought to take away that impending hit of elation and then restart the build. The final musical emotive climax is eventually satisfyingly given over, with the cymbals crashing and the roof falling down around Beeler’s words before finally petering out in physical and spiritual relief.
It fills me with genuine excitement to listen to a band not yet on my radar and to feel so deeply affected. Most importantly, I am, for the first time in 2014, enthusiastic about listening to a debut after being so spoiled last year by great first albums. It remains to be seen whether the connective qualities of this track will be a hallmark of their debut full length. If the sincere emotional qualities that fill everything in this song – from the music, to the lyrics and even the way the vocals contain a comforting worldliness – can be sustained, it would be a rare treat in an often cold and robotic music world. In the end, even promise unfulfilled is an indicator of promise still to be had.
Words by Tony Inglis