Album Review: Yard Act – The Overload
The Overload is a gritty project that avoids pushing its acidity to the brink of depression. Instead, Yard Act ground themselves in hard hitting concrete realities, and cuts its tensions with laughter to bring about absolute bangers.
Seething stares and withering looks. Sarcastic sighs, pointed screams and loud cackles. All of those things are what this charged social commentary of an album is built upon. Driven by engine-like bass lines and back-breaking drumbeats, The Overload is as sharp and visceral as a knife pointed at your face. With a cut-throat 11 tracks and 37-minute length, Yard Act are saying what they really want to say, with no frills, but plenty of jokes, and those jokes are probably at one point or another, at your expense. Lamenting the post-Brexit wasteland that is the UK today, the Leeds-based quartet ignites the capitalist values that saturate our society, pointing fingers and asking questions ruthlessly and vibrantly.
angst is concentrated and refined into focused stings of satire
After seeing the band at Wide Awake festival in summer at a stage literally overflowing with people trying to watch them, I felt validated in my previous excitement for the group. After buying a shirt off Bandcamp I’ve received multiple hilarious items of promo for their singles such as a paper eye-patch for ‘Land of the Blind’, and a fake pizza menu. This is a band that knows their audience and knows how to make them laugh and will do so out of their own pocket, acknowledging the fact they would be nothing without their fans. I patiently grasped each single as it came, often accompanied by an electrifyingly funny music video, or as pictured above, great live set, and awaited the album’s release. It didn’t disappoint.
Musically, the album is a triumph, consolidating their sonic signature and space in post-punk apart from many others. Homegrown guitar licks that feel bright and crisp, yet still serrated, stab through the album like a knife covered in warm blood. Punctual percussion with disco-esque drums pepper the project, with additions like bongos bringing a sense of pace and liveliness that carries the album on tracks like ‘Tall Poppies’ and ‘Payday’.
The production from Ali Chant establishes this kind of clean-dirty quality, with bass lines that ring through clear, pulsing away under James’ chants and rants, mixed and spaced out exceptionally well. Jibe-ridden ad libs such as the raspy and haunting repetition of “fake news” on ‘Dead Horse’, and intermittent instrumental motifs help to fill out the tracks and keep the potentially sparse repetitive instrumentals feeling fresh as a fish; holy sh*t I’m hooked.
While the subject matter encourages comparison to Sleaford Mods, and perhaps even the structural sonic quality, The Overload has a lot less electronic noise and a lot more analogue instrumentation. This comparison is perpetuated by the feature of Sleaford Mods’ favourite Billy Nomates on ‘Quarantine The Sticks’. I would have loved a more prominent feature from her, like a verse of her own, or even just mixed a bit louder in the chorus, but she’s great to listen to nonetheless. This, amongst many other tracks, stands as an example of the intensity of contemporary angst that, where others such as Squid make it incinerating and red raw, Yard Act concentrate and refine into focused stings of satire.
You can’t bang on about the deplorable issues of country, class, economy and politicians and then say everything’s going to be sunshine and daisies.
Part of the band’s freshness comes from the versatility of lead singer James Smith, who brings multiple irritating characters to narrate stories of privilege and ignorance such as on the previous, now extremely popular single ‘Fixer Upper’. Hooks and phrases are vital in making a memorable hit, demonstrated well on ‘Witness (Can I Get A?)’, a Clash like, Beastie Boys-esque short firecracker of a track; at only a minute twenty long, it still packs a volatile inflamed punch.
The band really prove their flexibility in sound toward the end of the album. ‘Pour Another’, a much poppier endeavour, is apparently their version of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’, who recently mentioned how enamoured he was by the band’s sound. The way ‘Tall Poppies’ progresses and evolves is astounding, and simultaneously reaches a real moment of emotional poignancy and empathy that stands out from the pervasive bitterness and stench of division that hangs around a lot of the album. This authentically sought empathy is furthered with a surprisingly optimistic ending, and what’s truly astounding is that it feels realistically optimistic. You can’t bang on about the deplorable issues of country, class, economy and politicians and then say everything’s going to be sunshine and daisies. And they don’t. They just lift your chin up.
Death is coming for us all, but not today
Today you’re living it, hey, you’re really feeling it
Give it everything you’ve got knowing that you can’t take it with you
And all you ever needed to exist has always been within you
Gimme some of that good stuff, that human spirit
Cut it with a hundred percent endurance
The electronic piano, synths and vocal effects are outside what you’d expect from Yard Act and yet function seamlessly. A lot of the elements remind me of the French band Phoenix. This track exemplifies what I feel Yard Act have mastered on this project, as well as generally what makes them truly unique: tone. To be life affirming and not wishy-washy is one thing, but to be life affirming after vehemently stressing the stresses of the modern world and not sound hypocritical is one hell of a task and I think they really pulled it off. It’s obviously not just James’ lyrics but the instrumentation and vibe of the tracks that pull it all together. They claim a coherence of sound and spirit with every song, cementing this project as a true modern classic.
Tall Poppies, 100% Endurance, Land of the Blind, Rich,