Updated: Feb 3
The post-punk band's debut The Overload may have charted at number two and broken vinyl records, but there's too much that disappoints.
I first heard of Yard Act last year when NME randomly mentioned that Elton John had raved about them. Upon looking them up, I found that they were a Leeds band. As I live there, this really pricked my ears up. I wondered: "Could we have the next big thing in the indie scene right on my doorstep?"
I sought the answer to this by throwing myself into their debut EP Dark Days, released in early 2021. Once I pressed play I was immediately surprised by how unique they were, the singing drifting into spoken word for the most part. Their lyrics were a little playful, but also truthful, honest, dark.
The EP opens with its title track and despite its main feature being its conversational verse quips, the chorus is extremely catchy. The rest of the EP is decent if not spectacular but easily did enough to fully intrigue me. I was in full anticipation for what they’d do next and under a year later, on January 21st of this year, they gave us their full-length debut album The Overload.
As I write this, the 37-minute album has just missed out on being Number 1 Album on the Official Charts. Yard Act had been campaigning humbly - albeit vigorously - for a final push to take the top spot, but they missed out narrowly to Years And Years. There is no shame in this, in fact the complete opposite. To run an established pop act so close, as a breakthrough DIY artist, is a sign of their own talent and ever-growing fan base.
Sometimes in a music article, the detail of where an artist hails from or where they’re based can simply be to add some colour, or just as a substitute for their name when referring to them. With Yard Act though, it’s a vital and telling piece of information as it’s engrained in not just their identity but their music in a blatant way. Lead singer James Smith’s vocal delivery is half-spoken-half-sung in a Yorkshire twang. And a few of the subjects he touches on obviously and proudly represent their Northern background.
The title track is an ideal opener, one you could easily imagine soundtracking the credits at the start of a film. It’s an impressive curtain-raiser that shows them as assured and confident beyond their years. There is a head-nodding urgency to this lush indie number as they whizz through it with a swagger.
Its successor ‘Dead Horse’ sees the tempo reigned in a bit, allowing for the rhythmic delivery of words about post-Brexit Britain coming to the fore. There’s a scathing attack on the state of the country’s music industry in this section: “The last bastion of hope this once great nation had left was good music. But we didn’t nurture it, instead choosing to ignore it. Yes, we’ve been trapped by the same crowd who don’t like it, unless they’ve heard it before.”
One pattern you’ll notice when reading not just the above but the rest of the lyrics that I’ve handpicked is that they read more like poetry than music lyrics. The clever lyricism of Smith is no doubt one of the band’s key components that will make them such an interesting band for a long while.
‘Payday’ has an earworm of a chorus: “Take the money, take the money, take the money and run.” Unfortunately, the usually emotionally packed verses don’t deliver this time round. It feels like a bit of a mixed trick when part of it is so moreish.
‘Rich’ starts off as simply a spoken word opening over simple punctuating bass notes and explores becoming well off money wise and all the complicated issues that come with when you are traditionally working class, not least fear of losing it: “And since I have become rich, I’ve been constantly living in fear of losing everything. That the bubble will burst and falling from my perch I will return once again to the life that I used to live.” It is a good song although it overstays its welcome near the end considering its repetitiveness in the chorus.
The restlessness of the prolonged finish to ‘Rich’ feeds into the weakest part of the album, the middle. ‘The Incident” is a bit of a shoulder shrug in my opinion, although the outro does have a slight hint of Kasabian when Smith repeatedly croons “I’m irrelevant”, which is a nice bit.
The most forgettable, easily omittable track on the record comes next in the form of ‘Witness (Can I Get A)’. It’s a quick little number that is over in under 90 seconds but its most damning thing is that you don’t really feel like you wanted it to last any longer, which you should for interludes like that.
So, I did find myself a little uninspired in the middle section. Perhaps their EP coached me to prefer them in shorter doses or maybe there just was some filler on this… It’s likely a mixture of both, but much more the latter. Luckily, the album had strong bookmarks at the front and end.
The one beaming light of the midsection is ‘Land of the Blind’ which is a huge improvement with a good bassline and an enjoyable melody. Its opening pre verse bit could easily belong on a classic Jamie T song, which is a reference point I expected to be using more going into the album but can’t now I’ve heard it.
The song flows effortlessly and even makes a humorously delivered yet pertinent point about the rich shamelessly taking money off the poor: “So if you just lend me that fifty-pence piece in your hand, and then close your eyes. ‘I’m going to make me and this fifty pence disappear’”. ‘Quarantine The Sticks’ is OK. It is perhaps their main Lockdown/pandemic expression when you consider the song title and some of its verses, but it’s written ambiguously so we can project a range of different ideas on them. He paints the picture of tensions with the police: “Get your hands off me. Shouldn’t you go catch come proper crooks?”
‘Tall Poppies’ is a perfect encapsulation of what they are all about. It is a serious bit of chronological storytelling of a stereotypical man from a small town starting with hopes and dreams that dwindle as he grows.
It has a casual, poetic style but has a satirical edge: “He played football. Boy, could he play. He played every single day and he still does. A scout from Crewe Alexandra came to watch him once, and they said they would be in touch.” This part ends there with the listener filling in the gap themselves, where your battled-hardened assumption he never got his big break is confirmed later in the tale.
‘Pour Another’ is a really good hit too, following on from ‘Tall Poppies’ it is clearly the best back-to-back moment on the LP. There is definite Talking Heads influence at the start of each chorus: “I said ‘we can’t have that’” in a higher pitch, jangly tone. I really like this one, it is a little happy-go-lucky and is a lot of fun.
‘100% endurance’ is a strong song that muses about the meaning of life and pokes at its random nature. Smith still manages to convey that we should enjoy it while it
lasts. It’s not a romantic view on what happens after you die, but practical, like he has realised that life just carries on no matter what happens - and he implies this should be a comforting thought: “It makes me stronger knowing that this will all just carry on. With someone else, something new. It’s not like there’s going to be nothing is it.”
All in all, this is a solid debut. I feel like I’ve been a little hypercritical of it but this may have been natural considering the hype and expectation leading up to it. The record is definitely a grower, with the best songs getting better with each listen. The average ones haven’t aged so well though and will likely be consigned to my scrap pile of respectable songs that I personally may not play again.
Smith is a genuinely good lyricist with an inspiring purpose of wanting to discuss important issues close to his heart. He has succeeded in this regard as the album packs a political punch. One of its most admirable traits is the palpable lack of fear across it. It is naive, raw and ambitious: a great trio for a debut album. Yard Act will only improve further, and I have no doubt they’ll produce a more well-rounded, top tier album in the future.