Yard Act Where’s My Utopia Review: Leeds chroniclers’ second proves that sometimes, more is more

Yorkshire sprechgesang of four massively widen their post-punk horizons on LP number 2.

Yard Act

by Andrew Perry |
Updated on

Yard Act

Where’s My Utopia



Yard Act Where's My Utopia

IT’S BARELY two years since Yard Act’s debut album, prophetically entitled The Overload, announced the Leeds-born quartet as one of the most exciting UK indie rock combo in years. At home, it charted at Number 1, but such are the rigours of self-promotion these days that commercially ambitious artists have to make themselves harder to avoid than ever before in pop history – and these early thirty somethings worked the social-media blitzkrieg hard. Consequently, it may feel rather early for Round Two.

The good news is that, with Where’s My Utopia?, James Smith’s crew have channelled 2022-23’s affirmation into a confident and substantial evolution of their sound.

For all its playful foundation in loops, The Overload was still inescapably Fall-esque, garnished with another Smith’s withering Northern brogue. This time, Yard Act are operating way beyond indie schmindie post-punk, signposted by their enlistment of co-producer Remi Kabaka Jr, AKA Damon Albarn’s latterday sidekick in Gorillaz.

Again assembled by bassist/MD Ryan Needham, this record’s blizzard of vocal snippets, borrowed riffs and beats evokes a spirit of sampledelic liberation reminiscent of early hip-hop’s light-fingered glee, of Saint Etienne (see Katy J Pearson’s silky bubblegum chorus on When The Laughter Stops) and, in its recurrent lope, Beck’s Odelay.

In the album’s early stages, Smith, a new father, forgoes The Overload’s scathing character studies to turn the lens on himself. The album’s title implies the complex problems arising from success, and in second track We Make Hits, he digs deep, ultimately to celebrate the band’s big tune-building raison d’être, also pleading “we’re on the same wage” while contracted to “a subsidiary of Universal, Inc”. The corporate budget, however, affords luxuries like choirs, orchestral flurries and the odd stentorian thespian voiceover.

Smith’s lyrical self-examination continues on moody Down By The Stream, where, like My Name Is Earlset to a barrelling hip-hop groove, he apologises for bullying a peer at school. At 0:47 on fourth track The Undertow, though, the album’s party starts in ear nest, as a Daft Punk disco beat kicks in, leading to the Pulp-esque chorus, “What’s the guilt worth, if you do nothing with it?” The bubbly, glitterball hijinks roll on into Dream Job (more musings on YA’s workplace – “step into my office, all night long”) until penultimate Blackpool Illuminations, where Smith reflects on a childhood trauma from the psychoanalyst’s couch alongside amusingly Afrobeat-tinged muzak.

The soul-mining feels sincere, and Yard Act’s skill – very like Mike Skinner ’s The Streets – is to turn that detailed narrative into great pop music, bursting with pop-cultural references and positive messaging. In finale, A Vineyard For The North, their frontman’s glass-half-full logic gives thanks for his career upturn, plus a by-product of climate change whereby wine may soon be produced in Yorkshire – a fittingly upbeat outcome from a band still on an unstoppable roll.

ISLAND. Out March 1

Yard Act Where's My Utopia
Price: $32.99

Also At: Rough Trade | Hive

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