ought[xrr rating=3.0/5]Oh, Constellation Records, you beautiful bastards—what will you come up with next? The anti-capitalist, Canadian record label’s roster is home to some of the most revolutionary, or pretentious, artists currently recording music, depending on your view. Avant-garde saxophone gods Colin Stetson and Matana Roberts are part of the Constellation family and, of course, post-rock rulers Godspeed You! Black Emperor has released all of their albums through Constellation. So a new artist on this crazed and storied label should be strange, right? Montreal-based Ought turns out to be the one of the most accessible artists signed by Constellation.

That’s not to say they’re not weird, quite the opposite. It’s just that, in comparison to 20-minute apocalyptic dirges and hallucinogenic brass solos, Ought’s unhinged approach to post-punk is a bit tame. Still, it’s an album defined by its quirks, from Tim Beeler’s deranged attacks on the microphone to floating dissonant string sections. It’s a polarizing release with some of the year’s best songs placed next to tracks that feel half-formed.

“Pleasant Heart” starts the album and it exemplifies Ought’s approach to their music of choice. They wear their influences on their sleeves, but they mold it together with a twitching and unnerving delivery. The riff here could have been plucked from Gang of Four’s Entertainment!. Beeler’s guitar strings sound like they’re about to be torn off as he launches into the angular line. Combine that with Tim Keen’s bordering on off-tempo drum work and Beeler’s creeping vocals and “Pleasant Heart” becomes a b-side that Gang of Four thought was too disturbing to release. “Pleasant Heart” is the most outright unsettling song here, but Ought continue in the same dark waters, for better and worse. “Forgiveness” is the most Godspeed-indebted song; Keen leaves the skins to set up a droning violin as Beeler drunkenly croons “Forgiveness is a drug”. It’s not a bad idea to pay tribute to your label-mates, but it’s clear that Ought’s comfort zone sits in rock, not more ambient territories. “Forgiveness” is the most obvious example of More Than Any Other Day’s biggest weakness; the fact that some of these songs don’t become fully cohesive pieces, even when they march pass the six-minute mark. “Clarity!” is ironically titled, as the big buildup from Keen’s snares leads only to a meandering chorus. “The Weather Song” feels like two tracks violently smashed into one. A colorful riff and wincing monotone vocals dominate the verses before Beeler wheels off into gospel and yells “I just wanna revel in your lies!

The double team of the title track and “Habit” balance the pitfalls. They’re strange bedfellows; “Today, More Than Any Other Day” comes packed with waves of exclamation marks as Beeler gushes with his daily manifesto. “The name of this song is ‘Today, More Than Any Other Day’ parts four through 43/ So open up your textbooks, or a magazine, or a novel, any kind of reading material will do!” he yells with giddy energy. When he later hollers, “I am prepared to make the decision between 2% and whole milk!” it’s damn near impossible not to smile. On the other end of the emotional spectrum is “Habit.” Beeler’s vocal work usually falls into the realm of Lou Reed or James Murphy, a sort of talk-singing that can become grating. On “Habit,” however, Beeler reaches into his higher range. While he sings “Is it something you’re trying to express?” it feels like he’s pushing to the breaking point. As the song grows, Beeler begins to slur his words so “I feel I’m having fun” and “I feel a habit” become indistinguishable. Those two rushes of emotional energy, one reveling in joy and the other languishing in sorrow, are the peaks of Today, More Than Any Other Day and the album never reaches those peaks again. Though looking back on it, this is their debut album. We can hope that more songs about carpe diem and 2% milk are in the works.

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