Last year marked the arrival of a certain generation of musical debuts. While music has always represented a canvas for the young to express their artistic reaction to societal ills, political fraction and human issues, 2013 showed the disparate methods by which young people cope with a world that to them, seems broken. Far be it for me to say that one generation has it tougher than previous generations gone by, but as a young person listening to young people make youthful music about the challenges we face, I can see that those facing us are at least different, if not worse.
Last year, music highlighted how polarised and confused we are in our reactions – we all want the world to be better, but our agreement on how to tackle issues like environmental damage, inequality and the advancement of modern life, to name but a few, isn’t unanimous. Some artists, like Savages, approached it from an anger fuelled, militaristic, anti-technological slant; others like Parquet Courts embraced smart-alecky sardonic answer-backs; while groups like Jagwar Ma rebelled with pure hedonistic withdrawal from reality, steeping themselves in times gone by in hope of escapism.
As the first half of this year comes to an end, so the first truly great debut record from an exuberant young band is let loose. More Than Any Other Day isn’t so much a brazen reaction to the rough times we live in, as it is a state of the union call to arms, gathering together comrades in youthful abandon and screaming that we still know and see and hear and feel. There is an emotional weight and a musical heaviness to Ought’s playing that never feels overbearing or oppressive. Much like the early year highlight Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything by Godspeed You Black Emperor off-shoot Thee Silver Mt.Zion Memorial Orchestra, the guitars wire from spidery to jarring and the drums mimic a marching band at times, but the music is always joyous and cathartic, like your heart climbing out of your mouth and shooting into space in euphoria.
Stylistically, Ought have drawn worthy comparisons to Television and the Velvet Underground, effectively mixing Proto-Punk Art Rock with an emotional lyrical maturity. Not many young bands are creating music this classicist that is also forward thinking and avant garde; certainly no other is doing it with the warmth and familiarity that Ought bring upon initial listening. Comparisons can often be like an anchor tied to the neck of a band in modern music because there is a bloodlust hunger among music listeners for something completely original and separated from outside influence. This is impossible, but to temporarily satisfy people with misplaced idealism, Ought at least mine fairly intact inspirational canyons when paralleled with their peers. There’s a gleaming sense of newness but at the same time, there is a friendliness for anyone even tenuously familiar with CBGB era punk or Bowie accompanied by Fripp.
Most impressive is that Ought really grab those bits of you that feel. Stand out single “Habit” uses a fairly simple but relatable lyrical metaphor, but it is Tim Beeler’s vocal intonation, rather than the words themselves, that is most arresting. He springs confidently and effortlessly from an inhuman sexless whisper, like the voice at the back of your head, to an animalistic wailing out for someone or something to a cocksure snarl reminiscent of Lou Reed. This only serves to aid the instrumental impact of these songs, which ranges from deafening to barely audible with the guitar reaching the power of a vocal partner.
The record begins with a claustrophobic stinging that acts like a dance lead that welcomes the rest of the band to waltz in when ready. Eventually, the music spirals, the band becomes a crashing crescendo that is stuttered and stabbing – nowhere near as fluid as a waltz but still as elegant. On first track “Pleasant Heart“, the music seems to collapse in on itself. There is an orchestral ambiance that allows the guitar to sound like just about any other instrument, screeching and bleeping and ringing. The moment of the implosion is then succeeded by the sound of tuning up – ready to go again to the point of combustion and then the will to repeat ad infinitum.
The musical dexterity of the record is what most pulled me in from the point of ignorance. The bass driven melody of “Habit” to the noise rock of “Pleasant Heart” to the organ backed drone of “Forgiveness“. Ought have gained the unasked for responsibility of soundtracking my life for the foreseeable future. Deep cut “Clarity!” moves from the crystalline visibility suggested by its title to a murky, Sonic Youth-esque whirlwind of electric guitars that is anything but clear, the mistiness lets you get lost in the sprawl. Juxtapose this with Beeler’s voice of a weathered soul and the music extends beyond atmospheric theatrics to something more touching. Last year, debuts made me feel mad and intense, fun and unabashed, but none spoke so clearly in amongst so much noise to the softer, love-obsessed aggrieved millennial in me. I cannot urge enough how “Habit”, with its bell chiming guitars and the uplifting inflection at the end of each line, crow-barred my heart.
I am completely unaware of the members of Ought’s deep-seated personal views on the importance of music in a social context, but, in my view, music cannot be fully removed from the environment that it was produced in. Ought are young North Americans making music, and so their music represents their experience as young North Americans making music. Young people have it pretty bad right now, they always have one way or another. Intricate, thoughtful music made by their peers offers the opportunity to zone in or zone out on these problems, if not through content then simply through tone. More Than Any Other Day makes me aware that young artists now are more inclined to channel feelings of pressure and confusion over their direction and place in the world into their work.
“Today More Than Any Other Day”:
On “Today More Than Any Other Day“, Beeler goes from speak-singing to us about “sinking deeper” to imploring that “everything is going to be ok”. Ultimately this shows that, through all the proto-punk influences and the anarchic cavalry calling, with their guitars as their war horses and music venues as their battlefield, against the failings of the day of its young people, Ought are simply romantics who stand “today, together” with everyone else in a joyous musical triumph that presents our reality as our escape. This record encourages revelling in the moment rather than inspiring rebellion perhaps because the best way to feel better about your place in life is to put all your hands together and seize the present.
Purchase: Ought – More Than Any Other Day (iTunes)
Words by Tony Inglis