Yard Act – Where’s My Utopia? review: charmingly sardonic as ever, only now from the top of the tree

Yard Act - Where's My Utopia? promotional shot

Review

Rating
8/10
Rating
8.0/10

The Leeds quartet return following a dizzying ascent to the top of the alternative culture tree. Lamacq endorsements, Elton John collabs, hordes of vinyl sales from debut album The Overload and a fierce live reputation all colluded to make them one of the most lauded names on the British circuit… But where do Yard Act go from here?

“It’s now my great pleasure to introduce to you the greatest voice of the entire century” are the opening words on new album Where’s My Utopia?, and from the get-go there is no doubt that frontman James Smith’s tongue is still very firmly in the cheek.

Track one, ‘An Illusion’ has the melodic, electronic sway of GorillazPlastic Beach, before crashing straight into ‘We Make Hits’, via some MF Doom-style samples. It’s a brilliantly meta, self aware and self referential number (“post punk’s latest poster boys wouldn’t have got to ride on the coattails of the dead” is golden from Yard Act).

The production on this album is immense throughout, ‘Down By The Stream’ is relentlessly groovy; blending big basslines with further MF Doomisms and scratches. The cut details youthful drug taking and self-actualisation through being a mean kid: it breaks down into an anxiety-ridden horror movie-style spoken word piece reminiscent of early YA single ‘Peanuts’.

Each cut goes on to flip to the opposite end of YA’s sonic range, and ‘The Undertow’ could have been lifted from a Jarvis Cocker solo record, before we’re flung right into lead single ‘Dream Job’, which is the closest that Where’s My Utopia? gets to the band’s debut outing.

The record is full of little callbacks to itself, with ‘Fizzy Fish’, ‘Blackpool Illuminations’, ‘An Illusion’ all weaving the same tapestry of childhood trauma, growth and learning. ‘Blackpool Illuminations’ is a bizarre piece in which Smith is his own therapist; it’s all twisted and avant-garde in how it plays out, but thanks to superb production and songwriting, everything falls into place quite beautifully.

That’s where Utopia differs from debut The Overload: where the latter felt like a collection of (albeit great) songs, this sophomore effort has the distinct feeling of an album. The tracklist weaves into itself, and the chopped-up storyline flows like the perpetual flashbacks of a Tarantino flick. There is also some deft use of vocoder throughout, with the studio flourish working wonders on tracks like “Petroleum”. Overuse of such a tool is flat-out annoying, but YA sprinkle it in nicely.

When The Laughter Stops” marks standout moment on Utopia, which sees the brilliant Katy J Pearson guest to fantastic effect. She is overlaid on her own vocals, which in turn complements a satisfyingly chunky bass riff that leads the number, courtesy of Ryan Needham. KJP and Yard Act have a fantastic chemistry, and play off each other nicely: her higher range contrasts with Smith’s drawl, and the relentlessly upbeat musicality of the tune makes it an absolute winner.

Things get a little more experimental as Utopia plays out. ‘Grifter’s Grief’ falls a little flat (children’s vocals on a cut are always a tricky one to nail), before the final act of the tune receives a hefty kick up the arse through a fantastic guitar solo and some madcap sampling. The final minute or so is frenetic and manic in the best way.

The aforementioned ‘Blackpool Illuminations’ and ‘Vineyard For The North’ feels like closure to the album’s narrative, with Smith professing how his band’s success and his family are the ‘Dream Job’; the ‘Utopia’ he’s been searching for all along.

Photo credit: Phoebe Fox

Review

Rating
8/10
Rating
8.0/10
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