Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Or is that sarcasm? Anyway, flattery will also get you nowhere. No, hang on, that can’t be right, cos this record is gloriously imitative and it goes to all the right places, at least for those who grew up on spiky, exploratory underground guitar sounds coming out of US college towns in the late 80s early 90s. i.e. me.
Let’s start again. I can boil this down for you. This record sounds like lots of others, and that’s great.
Much like the Meilyr Jones album Tom brought to the last Record Club, the trick here, hang on, that’s not fair, it’s not a trick, a swizz, a rip-off… the secret here is that ‘More Than Any Other Day’ is a record that weaves its influences and its references through its DNA. Rather than hit them like a series of targets, it works with the raw material of the band’s favourite sounds and then allows these to bubble to the surface as and when they need to. It’s a group of four young men making music influenced by the sounds they love. Is that a crime? What? No it isn’t? Okay then. I’m glad we got that one sorted out.
Let’s be clear, this is no pop-post-hardcore party piece. The Montreal foursome run the gamut from Talking Heads and The Pop Group up through classic Dischord, think the searching geometric patterns of Lungfish, Shudder to Think, Circus Lupus. Somewhere in the background someone strikes a guitar and it goes ‘SKIIING’. The For Carnation, Seam and Bitch Magnet hove into and out of view. There’s a moment at the beginning of the title track that, viewed from a distance, is the moment at the beginning of ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ which is the moment at the beginning of ‘Spiderland’ by Slint and that is not something you want to be dabbling with unless you’re very sure of yourself.
And yet throughout this is not a set of knowing nudges, rather a long ticklish buzz to the musical memory. I’m getting old now. I’m 45, for heaven’s sake. As my performance at Record Club most weeks shows, I no longer have the encyclopedic grasp of (a very narrow slice of) the stuff that echoes around between whichever synapses fire when I feed them these sounds. I spend about 25% of my time at our gatherings declaring, of some minor detail of some record or other, ‘Oh yes, it sounds just like, oh wait, wait, I’ve got it… no. No I haven’t.” And so it is with Ought. The voice at the beginning of ‘The Weather Song’ is the absolute spit of… somebody else. It’s been driving me spare for about two years. But, that’s actually okay for me. In a weird and ultimately pleasurable way, what I get from an echo like that is a wobbly Proustian rush of all the music I used to know and love that used to, and I assume still does, sound like some of these sounds.
There are always records that sound like the records you like the sound of. No-one is doing this in complete isolation, producing sounds that relate to nothing. Even those bees sound a bit like Stars of the Lid or ‘Chill Out’. You can never keep hold of all the pieces of a subculture, never wrap your arms around a genre or, worse, keep it pinned down. And as of now, more than any other day, the connections go in all directions, backwards, forwards, sideways, upwards, downwards (like I said, all directions) in time and in space, as well as in politics, sensibilities, meanings. I get a real kick from this album. That’s perhaps partly explained, but certainly not diminished, by the connections I’m making and the reactions those connections are enabling.
Have I over-explained stuff you already knew enough for you now? Can’t we just get on and talk about the songs?
‘Pleasant Heart’ kicks off with energisingly bitey guitars and vocals, spiky, urgent, anxious. Good things. But the heart of the record comes in the next run of tracks. ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’ begins in Spiderland and then, over 5 minutes, accelerates and veers to somewhere completely different, building a rush of giddy existential joy, both liberated and liberating. Then comes ‘Habit’, one of my favourite songs of 2014. Imagine, if you will, that you are hunkered in a cell, contemplating your last night on earth when, just before your promised last meal arrives, a priest comes in to offer you some final absolution. You wave him away, but the priest is Christopher Walken, who precedes to crouch with you in the corner of the room, grasp both your hands in his, and tell you what’s on his mind, a surging sermon about absolution and addiction. ‘Habit’ is a bit like that.
All three songs feature guitars and drums of the sort I have previously alluded to. But they also feature Tim Darcy, a wonderfully lithe and animated vocalist who performs, rather than sings, his meanings. His voice shifts and pivots, sometimes mid-sentence. His yelps and gasps and barks are electrifying punctuations. He is the embodiment of the skinny, bespectacled college student jazzed to high hell on the possibilities of being in a powerful rock band. I have no idea of he wears spectacles. I guess he may have gone to college. I think I heard somewhere that they met at college.
He is Albini, David Byrne, Ian Svenonius, David Yow’s younger, calmer brother. He’s like the smart singer of that smart band you used to like but can’t quite remember but is actually a summation of all of the smart singers in all of the smart bands.
And that’s Ought. And the rest of the record is pretty much just as good. Good sounds, good band. Good.
Steve listened: Sounds like Talking Heads, like Pavement, oh there’s the Fall (as always) but I like Rob am cosseted with the familiar sounds of the music of my past. I liked this album and it was easy on my ear, but then it didn’t blow me away and awaken me to a new sound that I hadn’t heard before. I’d listen again though, quite happily. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but only if you mean it, and you do it well, and Ought seemed to have at least carried this off with aplomb. I’d be interested in hearing how they developed their own style later on and how they sounded after this “get it out of our system” album had passed through…
Tom listened: Rob emitted a little sigh as I put Robbie Basho to bed (not literally, I hasten to add) and then went on to mutter, in an uncharacteristically doubt-ridden manner, that he wasn’t sure his album would work well coming after Visions of the Country. Well…he needn’t have worried! By the end of More Than Any Other Day, Basho’s acoustic warblings had been all but wiped from my memory and if it hadn’t been past my own bedtime, I would have been reaching for my old Feelies/Shudder To Think/Jawbox albums.
Although, as Rob and Steve have both suggested, they are not really doing anything that hasn’t been heard before, in stark contrast to Parquet Courts (for whom I have really struggled to see what all the fuss is about), Ought are doing it really, really, really well! The playing is sharp yet loose, the singing is surprising and welcoming, the rhythms are infectious and, crucially, the band seem excited to be playing their music…they sound like a team having fun! I liked the album more and more as it went on and, by the end, I had fallen pretty much hook, line and sinker!