Ought started their career sprinting, in more ways than one. By releasing two albums and an EP in a 17-month period during 2014 and 2015, the Montreal quartet established themselves at the top of the heap, with their explosive brand of post-punk, finding beauty and peace in life's mundanities and shouting about it at the top of their lungs. Following some downtime, the band's third LP, Room Inside the World, is a well-timed palate cleanser that moves toward a less brash but just as bold approach, while staying true to Ought's ethos.
From the record's opening moments, it's clear that Ought are more confident and understated. Deliberately taking things down a notch from their earlier work, Room Inside the World is a study in temperance, opting for slower builds in between bursts of post-punk fury, in contrast to their earlier, all-systems-go approach. By adding more space to their sound, Ought give themselves room to breathe.
The primary change is that Room Inside the World features frontman Tim Darcy singing melodically, in contrast to the David Byrne-affected yelp found all over Ought's first two LPs. Emboldened from the release of his 2017 solo debut Saturday Night, Darcy's more traditional approach to vocals finds him no less distinct a vocalist, imbuing the new material with plenty of trademark theatricality. A song like "Desire," which grows into a rousing crescendo featuring the 70-piece volunteer chorus Choir! Choir! Choir!, is driven by Darcy's building intensity, showcasing strength both while restraining and embracing his melodic power.
Ought's songs have always been about the journey, navigating through twisting passages of sonic claustrophobia, exploring post-punk tension with minimal elements. Relaxed tracks like "Brief Shield" and "Pieces Wasted" tend slow down the record's momentum near the end, but it's recovered by the band's signature, dizzying fare, as with the abrupt time signature shifts on "Take Everything" and the cacophonous thrum of "Alice."
The balance between restraint and disorientation is most impressively struck on "Disgraced in America," where haunting whines slowly increase throughout the track like an ominous cloud on the horizon — on further listens, the comparatively jaunty intro can never be heard the same way again. It's an impressive feat that showcases how Ought are moving forward on Room Inside the World, adding new elements to their sound while largely retaining the tension that makes the band so compelling. (Royal Mountain Records)