Ought: Did We Get What We Wanted?

Ought_SundayMontreal-based post-punks Ought made their Vancouver debut in front of an eager crowd at the Media Club this past Monday. Dada Plan, Malcolm Jack’s latest heady project, provided intriguing local support.

Talk amongst the audience compared Dada Plan to the Beatles after the Fab Four went to India and commented on Dada Plan’s open field aloofness, particularly Malcolm’s relaxed guitar style. Chatter also criticized the limiting nature of congas/guitar set-ups; however, I found that Justin Williams’s congas fit naturally with not only Malcolm’s guitar but Colin Cowan’s upright bass and Matt Krysko’s wealth of drum-machine and synth effects as well.

Dada Plan’s mild psychedelia and cover of Leonard Cohen’s “There Is a War” certainly suggested that they appreciate the classics. And like Cohen, Malcolm’s lyrics were poetic, at least in the way they ebbed and flowed in rhythms that, in my memory, defied standard pop structures.

Ought, meanwhile, nearly demolish pre-established structures totally. The anxious, on-edge squalls and outbursts that pock-mark their only full-length album, More Than Any Other Day (Constellation Records, 2014) became even more unruly live. The near-title-track, “Today More Than Any Other Day”, sped through its tantalizing build-up and nearly ran off the rails. The breakdown on “Pleasant Heart” feels contained on record, but explosion seemed imminent as I stood in front of the band. “The Weather Song”‘s time signature changes felt even more sudden merely at the sight of Tim Keen’s drumsticks rapidly ticking away in person.

Ought’s melodic sides shone too. On “Habit” and “Pill” (the latter from their upcoming Once More with Feeling… EP, due October 28 on Constellation), the band played wispily, and vocalist/guitarist Tim Beeler sang as straightforwardly as anyone can. Beeler also introduced a new song that ended the set: “This is a dance track. You can dance if you want to… You can leave your friends behind.” People complied with his Men without Hats reference, just as they did earlier in the night to the pointy, dimly lit “Around Again”.

I was only disappointed that Ought abridged “Today More Than Any Other Day”. The album is a sleeper, timed to explode with the strictest control. The auditory dead zones between detonations, where there isn’t much happening instrumentally, add so much to the tension that makes the album so exhilarating. Nowhere is this tension more palpable than on “Today”: the song accelerates at the two-minute-fifteen-second mark. But live, Ought reduced the track’s slow-release hiss to about half the time, if that.

Arguably, Ought borrow too much from Talking Heads: Beeler twitches neurotically while singing his disaffection for urban development (though his eyes rolling back in his head, his detached disposition, and his hollow stare towards an ambiguous point at the back of the room recall another punk-indebted icon). But given how original this young band’s debut record is, and how much poise every member already exhibits, they may not take very long to come into their own. Either way, to quote Pere Ubu (another highly innovative band), “I will wait.”

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu