Ought - More Than Any Other Day

On this year’s blindsider debut album from Ought, frenetic frontman Tim Beeler might just be David Byrne’s social anarchist alter ego.

Additional Info

8.1

ALBUM: More Than Any Other Day

ARTIST: Ought

2013

Rock

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?”

1. Pleasant Heart
From its first notes, Ought was attractive to me because its out-of-the-gates primitiveness reminded me of Cy Dune, Seth Olinsky’s (Akron/Family) moniker. “Pleasant Heart” could be played as an angsty counterpoint to Cy Dune’s excellent “Just Kids”. The rhythm jerks as the voice quivers. Beeler seems to unintentionally drift from the microphone. When the instruments first fade, Beeler’s desperation yowls, “… And cry out for the heart!” At three minutes, the guitars unravel yarn-like while bass is palm muted. The guitars sounds prehistoric yet calm on this confident minute and thirty-second incursion, on a first track of a debut album to boot. The pogorhythm returns, and Beeler attains the raw provocation of proto-punker Iggy Pop.9.0
2. Today More Than Any Other Day
How does Ought get away with it? On track two, the near-title track, Ought commences with a minute and fifty-two-second instrumental groove-based snare, hi-hat, and bass (garnished with a few palm-muted accents and natural harmonics), all leading to the vocally redundant: “we’re sinking deeper / we feel like…” By this point, Beeler’s role as declarative spokesperson is obsolete. A few measures of groovy accelerando complete the delve, and it’s clear that Ought relishes the opportunity to stretch out on this track. Ben Stidworthy’s exquisite bass line is dovetailed with a sudden adherence to rock convention (“One! Two! Three!”). From here, the song turns manifesto, and Beeler’s tone is on par with Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” and the lyrics rival the humor and gravitas of LCD Soundsystem’s “Pow! Pow!” Beeler chases the bass line in lunatic singsong (“da da dada da da dadada”) until cymbals crash to the frenzied proclamation: “Today! Together! Today! Together! … We’re all the fucking same.” Beeler’s diaphragm feels most overworked by this track’s conclusion.9.6
3. Habit
As with Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” Ought’s musical mimesis of achieving a high—the spooky trajectory from preparation, injection, stimulation, ecstasy, and crash—is a convincing depiction of addiction. The song is slightly impersonal since the substance being abused is unnamed, immaterial, but this nondescript quality universalizes the ubiquity of addiction, alluding to a “non-specific party and a non-specific city.” In this song, Beeler lets us hear his most vulnerable teeth-gritting falsetto, typically corresponding with the word “trying.” It’s not an attractive falsetto, but it is utilitarian. Another vocal tic, a quick gasp that sounds like “ha!” is ejected before announcing, Byrne-like, “and there it comes again.” Its slowcore dynamism—quiet then less quiet, slow then less slow—undulates as Beeler writhes in quivering ecstasy. “I feel a habit forming,” he says, self-aware before eerie pick scrapes pose symphonically behind the repetition of “a habit, a habit, a habit, a habit, a habit,” which takes on the metronomic cadence of a wooden rollercoaster (as terrifying as the conclusion to My Morning Jacket’s “Victory Dance”). 9.2
4. The Weather Song
“The Weather Song” is Ought at its most political, fomenting the collective listener to social anarchy. The satirical impassivity inherent in “Tell me what to do” illuminates how politics can function if unchecked, how incapacitated and benumbed people can become if cut off from political process. “Tell me what the weather’s like / so I don’t have to go outside,” is Beeler’s most pathetic imperative. Some of the album’s richest instrumentation can be found on “The Weather Song” as guitar riffs mechanize in mathematical layers. The chorus is noisy and anthemic, like a polished and danceable MC5.9.6
5. Forgiveness
The dead-middle stasis of “Forgiveness” is irksome. The impulse to slow down—to make a five-minute song feel like a five-minute song—is a good one, I think. After the frenetic and virtuosic first four tracks, “Forgiveness” is the well-deserved parasympathetic nervous system of the album, resting and digesting, but it takes such a utilitarian, no-frills path to this end that it almost flat lines More Than Any Other Day. Beeler’s background as a folk singer is evident as he croons with an unexceptional, but dutiful Dylan impersonation. Perhaps this is actually the intermission that the next track, “Around Again,” is alluding to, in which case, the compositional absence is justifiable (though dubiously recordable). Regardless, it’s this debut’s most skippable track.4.8
6. Around Again
“Around Again,” follows an inevitable escalating prog-rock path with danceable rhythms and entranced falsetto, but reaches a cliff at three minutes, seventeen seconds when Beeler’s psycho-spoken a cappella (“Why is it you can’t stand under the sun, but you can stick your head under a bucket of water and breathe in deep?”) leaves listeners in free fall until a switchback of steep, dissonant guitars lifts them back to Beeler who announces that God is in attendance as if gesturing to an opera box. Beeler then initiates a hypothetical interrogation with God during the self-referential intermission. Despite the headiness, it’s an endearing and necessary triumph following the album’s droning dud, “Forgiveness.” Early whispers of “go slow / go slow” are ignored as “Around Again” becomes as righteously untethered as the other tracks. By the way, if you’re curious as to what binary question Beeler would ask God if given the chance, how about this existential whopper: “Are we halfway there yet, or are we lost forever?” It’s one of those metacognitive keys that manages to unpretentiously teach us how to listen to most of the tracks on this album, particularly those with finite switchbacks like this one possesses—unlocking the intersection of lost-ness and halfway-ness. It’s the only song on the album that doesn’t earn an ending; rather “Around Again” fades out. Perhaps it’s because listeners have been given the unique privilege of overhearing Beeler volley a question at God—the stakes are high, and if the song endures, He might just answer, (or at least Beeler might succumb to ventriloquizing God)—that the song feels in need of a sequel.9.1
7. Clarity!
The song opens with a few steel-tooth comb rakes and cosmic telephone wire effects. Beeler is only whispering now, much less intimidating as Thurston Moore-inspired guitar freights through the track. The song feels as if it is in a holding pattern as the cosmic wah begins to sound more like gale force winds. Even when it hits its stride, the voice is less innovative on “Clarity!” It does have a grungy timbre that signifies Beeler’s got range beyond the likes of Byrne, even if it is disposable garage rock. It’s unnecessarily the longest song on the album.6.5
8. Gemini
As the most abrasive song on More Than Any Other Day, “Gemini” has little to offer by way of melody. It’s a post-hardcore song in the vein of At The Drive-In or Mewithoutyou with a genuinely grating chorus. At four minutes, fifteen seconds, an arcade riff is introduced, and later (5:12), it returns with gusto, accenting the speed picking. The abdomen-flexed retching is reminiscent of Descendents’ Milo Aukerman at his most menacing (OK, so not that menacing). It ends with flash-bulb two-four time, Beeler screaming, reminding listeners that they’ve got to: “Want it. / Want it. / Want it. / Want it.”7.4
Written by Lawrence Lenhart
Lawrence Lenhart received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where he was the editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. He is the recipient of two Foundation Awards, two Taube Awards, and the Laverne Harrell Clark Award in Fiction.



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