Constellation's very own rock 'n' roll band, Ought, came screeching out of the barriers earlier this year, with a record that recalled guitar geniuses such as Slint, the Talking Heads, Television and all other creative riff-makers. 'Once More With Feeling' is the follow-up EP to 'More Than Any Other Day' and doesn't let up on the band's restless energy and zest for life.
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When Ought first appeared on Constellation this year, they looked like a rough fit: a conventional, workmanlike band uncomfortably sitting next to some of the greatest experimental visionaries in contemporary music. Seeing them alongside polemic and often political acts such as Jerusalem In My Heart, Matana Roberts and the fucking Godspeed collective was a trip, considering that the earliest material they dropped was built out of thrashing punk guitars, a disregard for thinking things through, and a pretty conventional indie rock set-up. Were Ought going to be Constellation’s first honest-to-god rock band?
Ought have since proved themselves to be anything but standard. They fit Constellation because they question just about everything: their music is catchy and indelible, but the band have grander visions, taking hallmarks of their genre affiliations and developing them into something chaotic and strikingly poetic. The first time I heard debut ‘More Than Any Other Day’, I thought they sounded like Slint with David Byrne as their frontman, taking their drab, morose guitar tone and hiring the most emphatic motivational speaker available to deal with it. On ‘Once More With Feeling’, that strange juxtaposition continues: Tim Beeler still sounds like he’s providing audio commentary as much as he’s singing, combating his dulcet, melancholic tenor on “Pill” with a squeal of “I love this one!” to introduce “New Calm, Pt. 2”. It’s their freest and silliest song since “More Than Any Other Day”, relying on a few guitar chords and Beeler’s constantly wobbling vocals -- on this one, he’s really doing aerobics, directing his band to the left and right, shaking out chants of “everybody!” and randomly squealing “Who invited Paul Simon?! I didn’t!” to keep everyone on edge. As with all proper Ought jams, it sounds like he’s partying and self-reflecting at the same time, meta-analysing his song the way he did on “Habit” by floating above it and offering lyrics about how it’s coming together. Ought's music is about the process as much as it is the product.
The second half of ‘Once More With Feeling’ briefly hints at a brand new side of Ought, or just a stricter version of them: Beeler goes full-on spoken word as guitars screech noisily through the back of the room like they’re being strangled rather than played. They’ve utilised dissonance before, but it’s here they finally deliver it. By "Waiting", though, they’re back to making the kind of perfectly balanced indie rock they know and love, but also love to know: with guitars and words, they wink at their audience, and let them know they’ll always be here to question what is to be done with a plain indie rock song.
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