The Lantern, April 19 | Photo: Tim Ellis
There’s a fantastic moment in the 2015 Cate Blanchett starring film ‘Carol’, whereby Blanchett’s character, she of the film’s title, makes the following remark with regards her future love interest Therese, played by Rooney Mara: “What a strange girl you are, flung out of space”. Of course within the film Carol is struck by the other-worldly beauty and grace of Mara’s shop girl Therese. The thought struck me whilst observing Montreal based post-punk noisemakers Ought, that the band’s lead singer could equally have this epithet applied to him. And I mean that as a compliment…
I wouldn’t usually opt to start a review by focussing on an artist’s appearance, but lead vocalist Tim Darcy has something about him that makes one feel they are in the presence of something extra-terrestrial. Tall, lithe of frame, with insane cheekbones, and a great line in sassy finger wagging insouciance, Darcy is every inch a possible visitor from another star. So here he is, flung down from space with a mission to report back on these strange earthlings and their odd behaviours, all in the form of Ought’s fiddly guitar lines and bass heavy grooves. Grooves over which Darcy, with impeccable diction, wails, spits, often simply speaks, arch vignettes such as “I am talking out of my arse”. Maybe not the best example but one that stuck in my mind for sure!
In this case Darcy is being hard on himself; on the whole his lyrics are a joy, full of oblique, naturalistic phrases and weird images. Often this comes across like a case of verbal diarrhoea, a stream of consciousness pieced together from stolen bits of (perhaps) real life conversations. An approach that brings to mind Underworld’s Karl Hyde, who has a similarly great ability to pick up not only on the interesting things people say, but the myriad and fascinating ways they have of phrasing and delivering them.
On mid-set highlight ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ Darcy barks a list of seemingly innocuous everyday questions, “How’s the family? How’s the church? How’s the job? How’s your health been?”. Yet he sounds like he is on the edge of some sort of existential crisis throughout, his eyes rolling up into his head in a kind of ecstatic abandon, as though possessed. This is a pure and emotive as your basic four piece rock setup can get at this stage.
Ought are taking on the madness of modern Western civilisation, and stripping back the veneer to find the fears, and little joys, buried within the details of life. Throughout their set, the four piece create a visceral, thrilling din; and these guys can get noisy when they want to. Their simultaneously laid back yet driving brand of post punk, owing a debt to The Fall, Pavement, early Talking Heads, always feels purposeful and precise.
On first listen, Ought’s sound may come across as one dimensional, somewhat greyscale, but this is to miss the point. The beauty lies within the mesh of individual parts creating a whole. Each member of the band has a specific role to play for the benefit of the overarching sound. Drummer Tim Keen is an ever present, his restrained playing sat just behind the guitar and keys, sometimes creaky, lolloping, sometimes galloping and steady. All while the droning bass tones of Ben Stidworthy compliment him expertly, giving the dirge-like feeling of the incessant pounding of blood through one’s own veins, on a non-stop journey to nowhere and back.
One of the band’s great tricks is the stop-start nature of the song structures, in particular during ‘The Combo’, during which Darcy delivers choppy guitar lines, with the band giddily speeding up and slowing down in unison, like a perfectly drilled defensive back four moving together as one entity (one for the football fans there).
At times, as on the slow motion post-rockisms of ‘Passionate Turn’, Keen’s drum fills seem to flutter like someone shuffling a pack of cards. It’s details like this, and Keen’s selective and purposeful cymbal work, that separate Ought from the more workaday guitar bands that flood the market.
There are a few occasions where the band settles into what feels like a jam session, as though the audience being there is a kind of irrelevance or accident. This is the sign of a brave, mature band approaching a kind of plateau of ease in their own surroundings, and its truly a privilege to behold.
At the end of ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ the band create a relentless passage of droning, dreamlike swirling guitar noise that simply repeats for several minutes. Even in instrumental passages such as this, there is a sense of direction to the metronomic squall of feedback Darcy generates from his guitar. At no point does this feel like putting two fingers up to the audience, rather it just comes across as four young guys exploring their chosen art form, for arts sake. And having fun doing it.
Check out ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ right here: