ALBUM: More Than Any Other Day
For Ought frontman Tim Beeler, distinguishing between 2% and whole milk is not as simple as fat content. On the (almost-)title track “Today More Than Any Other Day,” it becomes an implicit metaphor for the types of quotidian aesthetic decisions he routinely grapples with. Beeler is champing at the bit to make such decisions on the day in question, much of his hankering touting humanistic ethics (he intimates that he is “excited to feel the milk of human kindness” and wants to tell a fellow train passenger, “Hey, everything’s going to be okay.”). Beeler’s adrenalized anticipation crescendos into an unhinged mantra: “Today! Together! Today! Together! Today! Together! Today! Together! We are all the fucking same.” While this egalitarian relationship ebbs and flows throughout the album—occasionally, Beeler lilts at the lectern—it remains a truism of More Than Any Other Day that Ought and audience are in this together. The album cover, an aerial photograph capturing a team of middle-aged adults with their hands in for a “Go Team!” moment, synchronizes with Beeler at two minutes, fifty seconds when he rallies: “Ok, well here we go: One! Two! Three!” acting as a self-assigned and welcome team captain.
The expatriate four-piece (hailing from New Hampshire, New Jersey, Australia, and Oregon) formed in Montreal concurrently with the 2012 McGill University Québécois student strike, Printemps d’Erable. While the strike served as an oblique impetus for the New Calm EP (2012), on More Than Any Other Day (Constellation Records, 2014), Ought seems equally willing to brandish political rhetoric and artistic declaration as they forge their path as a not-so-timorous scion of art rock. Beeler’s background as bard and poet are evident in the most unlikely of places, like an op-ed parrot riding on the hunchback of hardcore. The confrontation one hears in Beeler’s voice is ad hoc evocation for what Constellation calls Ought’s “social mandate”.
To call Beeler a confident newcomer is a gross understatement; his harried leadership on Ought’s debut album carries More Than Any Other Day to places so irreversibly post-(hardcore, punk, rock, etc.) that “post” ceases to be chronological. For Ought, post is more structural, pillaresque. It is the hook they hang their hat upon. Artful lyrics are articulated via a range of masticated PSA, dissonant crooning and heaving, and manic, aerobic manifesto, all over jerky kraut rhythm. The eight-song constraint makes the album feel breezy despite the fact that the average song clocks in at a luxuriant five and three-quarters minutes. Despite the first four songs being the most palatable, susceptible to digital download record single status, it would be a grievous mistake to only listen to these in isolation. More Than Any Other Day is a durational melee of tonal hairpins and instrumental dexterity, which ought only be experienced linearly.
Individual moments feel jaunty and discrete, but these are whimsies of scaffolding consequence, interlocked by jagged riffs that can move in wavelike tandem, resist through hypnotic inversion, or stymie through ad libitum bridges that are built just in time for the next verse or movement to arrive. “Around Again,” in particular, is compositionally and thematically defiant, with easy-to-follow kraut rock development until, at three minutes and seventeen seconds, an unprovoked riddle—spoken and incoherent—triggers dissonant guitars that screech and clink, and Beeler jettisons his falsetto for David Byrne-like speak-singing. It’s an intelligent transgression that denotes the signature ambition of this album.
There are more explicit grabs at intelligence, many of which manifest as Beeler’s metacognition. Somehow, his declarative tone rises above the prospect of irony. He is a comfortable educator who lets listeners know (before they go rummaging for the album jacket) that “This song is called ‘Today More Than Any Other Day,’” a listening aid or advertising technique. Not only does Beeler let listeners know when “it’s coming, it’s coming” as they approach an “intermission,” but he can also be heard petitioning listeners to open their textbooks for an off-screen lesson, parts four through forty-three.
More Than Any Other Day may be volatile, but it offers its listeners a hard-earned equilibrium. The equilibrium is abandoned, though, as it hits its listener with “Clarity!” and “Gemini,” the last two tracks, which are more vocally manic and melodically cantankerous than the others. The forceful finish complicates the notion that Ought is the heir to any one throne, be it David Byrne’s, Iggy Pop’s, Lou Reed’s, or Ian MacKaye’s, but the fact that Ought has largely bypassed comparisons to its cohort is a sign that More Than Any Other Day has paved the path toward a throne of Ought’s own.
“Are we halfway there yet, or are we lost forever?”