Monday, March 04, 2024

Yard Act’s ‘Where’s My Utopia?’ Says: ‘Brood, and Then Dance’

With their 2022 debut albumLeeds group Yard Act cemented their position in the post-punk scene as luminaries of anti-Brexit diatribe.

Throughout ‘The Overload’ - against a backdrop of grinding bass tones and upbeat, minimalist drums - James Smith narrated the sordid and over-indulgent lives of numerous fictional middle-class characters. The opening title track perfectly set the scene for the album to explore a society of ‘dissonance’, delving into the ‘overload of discontent’ pervading working-class Britain. 

Since the formation of the band in 2019, Yard Act have released an EP, and now two albums to date. Safe to say, they’ve certainly been prolific. With their latest release ‘Where’s My Utopia?’, released with Island Records, the band builds on the distinct post-punk sound of their debut album while treading new terrain in disco and electronica, piquing the curiosity of both new listeners and longtime fans. Lyrically, Yard Act’s latest endeavour explores guilt, nostalgia, and modern cynicism all in one, reminding audiences old and new that they aren’t afraid to be bold. 

Opening track ‘An Illusion’ begins with a theatrical but brief introduction, before transitioning to a loose, almost sedate beat. The track mourns a lost, disappointing society, and the optimistic-sounding melody distracts from the misanthropic subject matter. 

Released as the third single from the album, ‘We Make Hits’ is utterly anthemic, an ode to the band and making music with your friends. Punctuated by a distinct bass intro and a disco beat that makes you involuntarily nod your head, the track is also filled with glitching breakbeats that break new ground within Yard Act’s discography. The track finishes on a witty note, once again reminding audiences of the good-humoured cynicism that the band is notorious for: “If it’s not a hit, we were being ironic.” 

The discordant guitars on ‘Down by the Stream’ are reminiscent of early Sonic Youth. Smith expresses remorse for childhood actions, narrating the story of a boy who he regrettably gave a hard time during school. Lyrically, it’s one of the more earnest songs on the album, but musically, it’s full of life, with a hip-hop beat and a thick driving bass. ‘The Overload’ was distinctly comical, and this album takes a sharp turn away from that, but it has its funny moments nevertheless: “I think his dad came over from somewhere else or summat/ or maybe he was from Milton Keynes.” 

‘The Undertow’ delves further into some of the themes explored in the previous track, with the central hook being: “What’s the guilt worth if you do nothing with it?” It begins with a minimalist drum machine, and when the beat kicks in, it’s accompanied by arpeggiated strings and unexpected (albeit pleasing) electronic elements. Despite its lyrical solemnity, the track is best when at its most upbeat. At this point, we’ve already established that ‘Where’s My Utopia?’ certainly dabbles in disco, which is where the songs shine at their best.

Released as the first single off the album, and for good reason, ‘Dream Job’ encapsulates what ‘Where’s My Utopia?’ is all about - expressing gratitude for the present, whilst also having difficulty articulating that gratitude. Amid a national recession and an increasing number of AI tools that threaten the modern artist - it’s sometimes difficult to continue perceiving this livelihood as ‘the dream’. This is an incredibly catchy party song which once again illustrates disco’s heavy influence on this album. ‘Fizzy Fish’ feels like it could almost belong on ‘The Overload’. The eclectic chorus almost sounds comical, hallmarked by a distorted cry. Smith’s words are nostalgic as he recalls watching sweets being dropped in a drink and seeing the gelatine seep through. 

‘Petroleum’, released as the second single on the album, features a very memorable refrain against a pounding, syncopated drum beat: “My bones burn/And the brain that’s controlling them/Knows that the soul needs petroleum/that’s how it goes”. As described by Smith, ‘Petroleum’ is about an incident that occurred at a Bognor Regis gig at the beginning of 2023, in which Smith turned on the crowd and announced he was bored and did not want to be there. In interviews, Smith has reflected: “I was really disappointed with myself and my performance that night . . . This (song) looks at the idea of what is expected of musicians when they perform live, and this consumerist demand that they deliver.” The cyclical, catchy bass and lead guitar riff goes hand in hand with Smith’s lyrics to elevate the song’s meaning.

‘When the Laughter Stops’ has the first and only feature on the song. Katy Pearson delivers a catchy chorus and her vocals lock in with Smith’s; the song’s sardonicism is contrasted with a more positive-sounding melody that simply works. ‘Grifter’s Grief’ is rife with the guilt explored earlier in the album. The song explodes into life in the last forty seconds of the song, an abrupt departure from the melancholia of the rest of the track. It’s a brief homage to the heavier tones of ‘The Overload’. 

‘Blackpool Illuminations’ is a seven-minute long ode to childhood. It is undeniably the most sentimental song on the album. As ‘Where’s My Utopia?’ draws to a close, Smith narrates a childhood story, doting on being a fun-loving, curious six year old at Blackpool beach. Midway through the song, Smith fast forwards to the present day, reflecting on revisiting Blackpool to support Foals for two nights in 2022. Smith contemplates: “For the first time I felt truly free/ With my beautiful family and my dream job no longer a dream/Still now it baffles me.” The visceral, emotional lyrics are a punch in the gut to anyone who has listened to this album hoping for more of the light-hearted fun that ‘The Overload’ provided.

Heavily hip-hop and electronic-inspired, closing track ‘A Vineyard For The North’ is quite literally a song about climate change. As the album draws to a close, Smith reminds audiences of the lyrical wit that holds the band together: “Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life/ Until the well runs dry, that is.” The band have interestingly decided to end the album on an upbeat, high note, and they certainly go out with a bang. 

Thematically, Yard Act’s recent feat develops many of the ideas introduced in their debut album, traversing more mature ground by exploring sentimentality in more depth. Musically - the album is an eclectic mix that showcases the band’s versatility and ability to play with genre. Songs like ‘We Make Hits’ and ‘Dream Job’ sound like they were made for festival season; the album couldn’t have come at a better time as UK music lovers eagerly anticipate the arrival of summer. Tracks like ‘Blackpool Illuminations’ and ‘The Undertow’, on the other hand, are serious business. All in all - ‘Where’s My Utopia?’ says that Yard Act are unafraid to evolve and show people what they are really made of.  

Lina Adams


Image: Phoebe Fox

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