Most post-punk bands on a transatlantic tour set their sights on the turbulent bowels of major cities across the UK. London, Manchester, Birmingham perhaps. Oxford though is not a town that springs to mind. Yet the Montreal-hailing, Ought, have altered this perception. Master blenders of art-punk, post-punk, and noise rock, they took to the stage at The Bullingdon on a bitterly cold night last Friday, promoting their latest LP, Room Inside the World.
The band are 3 LPs and 3 EPs deep into their discography, but the intimate venue has enough charm and character to showcase their set superbly. This set consists of Ought’s unique blend of musical styles, catchy refrains, and poignant lyricism remarking topics from toxic masculinity to the banality of everyday life.
For Room Inside the World, the band swapped screeching guitars and frontman Tim Darcy’s high-pitched nasally voice, for slower tempos and bass-trodden vocals (as well as extra instrumentation of clarinets and saxophones). The set began with the album’s opener ‘Into The Sea’. It features off-beat drum patterns, rolling guitar riffs, and melodic choruses which immediately infected the audience.
The most popular song from the album follows, ‘Disgraced in America’ and Darcy’s lyrics on “demarcation” appear incredibly poignant here. The track showcases their assertive statement against Trump’s immigration policies. The following two tracks: ‘These 3 Things’ and ‘Desire’ also featured turning points to Ought’s stylistic sounds from their previous work. The former contains metallic rhythmic vibraphone beats and heavy use of synth chord progressions, and the latter incorporating choirs and freestyle jazz instrumentation. In spite of these changes, the audience fully immersed themselves in the more intricate and bassier grooves, embracing them wholeheartedly.
The latter half of their set almost fully diverged from the more muted tones of Room Inside The World, to the rambunctious sounds of their past work. The band’s anti-patriarchal track, ‘Men For Miles’ seamlessly increased the set’s tempo. The crowd even synchronised their bopping to Darcy’s refrains of, “there were men for miles… doesn’t it just bring a tear to your eye?” The dive into this set of work continued with ‘Habit’ and ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ – some of the more popular recordings from the band to date. Their lyrical commentary on western societal norms being on full show here. These tracks are popular not only for their lyrical resonance but also their combination of rhythmic grooves and spoken word, which Darcy has recounted on being the inception of his artistic career.
The slight lull in their set came just before the encore, with slow tempo tracks such as ‘Passionate Turn’ and ‘Disaffection’, but they ultimately set up Ought’s encore for a flourishing finale.
Finale of the night – ‘Today, More Than Any Other Day’, was an apt slow-builder of a song, which lurched into a frantic, chaotic spiral of energy, with Darcy exclaiming, “we’re sinking deeper, and sinking deeper, and sinking deeper!” Revisiting the banality of everyday life in this song, Darcy portrays this through a grocery shopping trip, featuring the deliciously deadpan lyric, “today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make a decision between 2% and whole milk.” The track’s infectious energy and relevant lyrical content was the perfect way to end this chilly Friday night in Oxford, allowing the crowd to revel in Ought’s utmost cynicism.