For a band that has excelled at portraying the several variations of panic, Ought have always kept great focus on being human in the center of an expansive map. The boldest step the band could make after 2015’s Sun Coming Down was perhaps toward the only place bigger than the planet: the subconscious. Room Inside the World is a dialing-down of the volume, but a true flexing of the band’s understanding of internal dynamics. This album is their biggest change in form and will go down as their most accomplished release yet.
Tim Darcy’s first croon into Room Inside the World, “Into the Sea,” is a Roy Orbison-like slide into the introspective: “I can’t be here in my way again.” Darcy’s lyrics have always pertained to a call-to-arms of taking on the mundane; even running errands was a declaration to the world. On this release, the hushed richness of his delivery is just as pronounced as any shout that we’ve heard on “More Than Any Other Day.” The entire band has grown in confidence, from the jangle-pop of “Disaffectation” to the shifts of “Take Everything.” Their foray into the love song, “Desire,” is a slowed-down, intimate track met with John Mellencamp-like storytelling of fleeting, but vivid romance. The track concludes with a choral response, and even in the falling apart that ensues in the closing minute, we’re met with an aftermath of assurance. Ought’s confidence in their songwriting ability makes these songs seem like their next path as opposed to a grand departure.
The crown jewel of the album, “Disgraced in America” is an exercise in that confidence. In the past, the band’s reliance on repetition has been where they flourish, but a change in style and rhythm show us that saying something out loud doesn’t make for self-reflection. The tightly-wound drums and light vocal work show a reflection that we haven’t heard from this band prior. “Disgraced” is three minutes shorter than a lot of their other punctuated tracks of the past, but it is their most nuanced track to date.
When looking deeply in ourselves, we may not always like what we find. “These 3 Things” is a dealing with material and physical guilt: how can we expect to be of service when we have instincts that will forever tie us to selfishness and gluttony? Can we really be against something that we subconsciously desire? These questions are anxiety-provoking, and Ought have learned to backdrop them with sound textures as opposed to just volume.
It’s easy to call this album more subdued and introspective than previous releases, but this album holds just as much chaos as anything Ought have released. It’s one thing to use nervous energy to proclaim your presence to an unforgiving world, but another to use that same energy in an act of meticulous self-care. What we are left with in the end is an acknowledgement and ablution of self-doubt. Room Inside the World doesn’t play like a how-to as much as a story of survival–a story that we all know and tell as we try to make ourselves better people.