Yard Act prove themselves on Where’s My Utopia?

Questions of success have been looming for Yard Act. Soon after releasing their first singles, the band found themselves hot on the lips of any BBC Radio 6 host, and with debut album The Overload landing at number two on the UK charts. So, how would they respond to their newfound eminence now that they’re removed from the setting and inspirations of their acclaimed debut?

They’ve turned themselves inside out, looking inward and pulling out a very wonky kind of disco music, like this is the result of a group therapy session aided by keyboards and drum machines. Reflecting on the band’s rapid rise, vocalist (and recent father) James Smith said: “I’d been looking to fill a void and I was convinced from the age of 15 that this would fill it… But it just opened another ten page survey to fill out rather than ticking a box.”

Where’s My Utopia? is the response to this new survey and acts as a testimonial of sorts. It begins with ‘An Illusion’’s cruise through disappointment before the bounce of ‘We Make Hits’ charts their genesis and dresses down the position of ‘post-punk’s latest poster boys…’ to just ’two broke millennial men on the back of the bus’ in delightfully droll and self-referential fashion. Their humour has traded some of The Overload’s serrated edge for subtlety but works better because it’s less reliant on the caricatured targets of the debut, leaving WMU? feeling more organic by comparison.

The self-analysis continues through the childhood reckoning of ‘Down by the Stream’ with its affecting and brutal spoken-word ending and the career reckoning of ‘The Undertow’, though its strings and the first (of two) David Thewlis cameos feels like overkill and is the first instance of the band’s ambition overtaking their taste.

Overseen by Gorillaz drummer and producer Remi Kabaka Jr., the detailed production is often immaculate and accommodating to all the sonic accoutrements but sometimes gets in its own way. ‘Fuzzy Fish’ suffocates to the point of confusion and the flipped-out ending of “Petroleum” feels insecure rather than giving it something more fitting to the rest of the song.

‘Dream Job‘ is such a wondrous melting pot it defies a genre and the album’s best song, ‘When the Laughter Stops’ featuring Katy J. Pearson, is exquisite. The pain of a man starved of opportunities is transfigured into a syncopated, poppy, head-nodder. Bassist Ryan Needham and drummer Jay Russell (who both do incredible work across the album) spark a stellar offbeat groove and Pearson (who features uncredited on other tracks) advises with a snaking chorus as Smith ‘plays the victim shot dead in the cold open’ before dreading going back to a ‘proper job’ afterwards. The buoyant music contrasting against the dark lyrics is simply perfection.

Single ‘When the Laughter Stops’ featuring Katy J. Pearson

Though ‘Grifter’s Grief’ is intricate and pulsing, it lacks urgency and for all the slinky groove of ‘Vineyard for the North’, it’s not anything profound or impactful and feels a bit like an afterthought of the real end of the album, ‘Blackpool Illuminations’. It’s the highlight of the final three tracks and is the greatest showcase of the band’s ambition and arguably ability, taking inspiration from Nigerian and highlife music. Over a smooth, skipping groove, Smith embellishes a past trip to Blackpool as a smokescreen for a stark epiphany that eventually hits. To hear Smith’s rhymes click together over the floating arrangements, you appreciate that a UK group feels ambitious and free enough to attempt writing a song like this on ‘album number two’ let alone have the ability to pull it off like second nature.

Where’s My Utopia? never finds definitive answers to the question it poses but it does capture a group emoting and exploring with significant powers at their disposal. Not all of it works flawlessly but the parts that do are outstanding, revealing an open and hungry heart and an ingenuity few prominent bands possess. Intense and enthralling, this is as complicated and humane as Yard Act themselves aspire to be.

Haiku review:
Not all brilliant
But the highest points so far
Can’t wait for the next

Where’s My Utopia? is out now on all major streaming services and can be enjoyed/purchased right here.

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