Subtly political Montreal band takes a more melodic approach on moody third album
Last year, Ought singer and guitarist Tim Darcy released his first solo album, Saturday Night. There's a sense of freedom in such side projects — temporarily shedding a band name to cast off the trappings, perceived or real, of a main musical project — and Saturday Night is no exception.
Darcy experimented with more intimate, personal songs that provided a counterpoint to the live-wire, arty post-punk of Ought's first two albums, 2014's More Than Any Other Day and 2015's Sun Coming Down. Darcy's vocals, too, changed from a frenetic yowl (think David Byrne) to a more manicured but no less interesting croon.
On Ought's new album, Room Inside the World (Merge Records), Darcy's solo experiments carry over to the Montreal band's sound. “I very conscientiously wanted to bring that into the next Ought record — being a much more melodic vocalist,” Darcy said recently by phone.
Room Inside the World is a stylistic departure, too, with smoother tones and more layers (including a 70-piece choir) that developed over time as the bandmates posted ideas to “digital mood boards.”
“We uploaded pictures, digital art — everything from whole albums to YouTube videos, or a particular synth sound. A lot of it was not rock music at all. Some were very specific bands, like the Mekons, or we talked about certain Brian Eno synth sounds, but then also more ambient, spacial sounds,” Darcy said. “We knew we wanted to make the record in a different way. The other two were made very quickly. We wanted to think more about tones, and also having grown as players over three years of touring, we wanted to bring those abilities and those new ideas into the new record.”
Drawing on those influences, Ought wrote most of the songs together in a room while Darcy ad-libbed vocals. From there, he took the demos home to work on lyrics and vocal melodies. “There were some songs where I'd have three completely different versions of vocals on the same track, sometimes with different lyrics, which was a very strange experience for me,” Darcy said.
Ought still embraces its reputation as a so-called political band, though Darcy said he's usually turned off by preachy, overtly political lyrics. “People have said this record is not political, which I disagree with. I think it's as political as More Than Any Other Day, it just does it in a different way,” Darcy said. “One thing I've been thinking about is trying to create positive space instead of living in negation to other entities, or what you're opposed to. You can be outspoken and you can be opposed to things, but also we need to create forward momentum in new directions.”
On the elongated, free-flowing outro to “Disgraced in America,” Darcy sings about demarcation (“Demarcation wears me thin/Demarcation does me in”), a concept with political implications, though not an obvious political statement on its face.
“That's definitely a realm I'm called to — these structures and the way that we're socialized, and different things that get in the way of the world being better than it is now,” Darcy said.