Album Review: Yard Act – Where’s My Utopia?

Cover image courtesy of Chuff Media

Where’s My Utopia is the second studio album from Leeds band Yard Act, which has been co-produced by Remi Kabaka Jr from the Gorillaz. The album discusses a few ideas, most of them in some form or another being about the British experience and what it was like for the members as they were growing up. Sonically, this album has a lot working for it, and although it’s officially an indie rock record, it has elements of dance, pop and spoken word tactfully littered throughout the album.

It is impossible to listen to this album and not fall in love with Yard Act’s style. It’s incredibly fresh, and I bet that this is the kind of sound that will be 2020’s answer to Britpop. Following on from the great indie and post-punk movement of the early 2000s, in which bands such as the Arctic Monkeys redefined what Britain had to offer, Yard Act present this laid-back, very northern approach to their music which focuses primarily on spoken word passages and stronger, sung choruses to back them up. It’s fun, fresh and enjoyable to listen to – in ways, you feel like the people are much more relatable as they’re just talking. I’ve heard a similar style in other smaller bands such as Do Nothing, but Yard Act so effortlessly seem to recreate this sound that it feels like a whole new thing in its own right.

Starting off the album, An Illusion begins with a slower more relaxed pace, mostly showcasing the band’s clear desire to make a heavily and uniquely produced project. I’m not sure how much influence Remi had in terms of style, but right from the start, they break very far from the four-chord distorted guitar sound we’re so used to, – having layers upon layers of instrumentation, in an almost Gorillaz-y fashion including strings backing the bridge. It’s at the end of this song that we’re also introduced to the snippets of old film/TV dialogue which have been littered across the album. At points, they seem to refer to the track that they follow, but in this first song we simply get the cryptic “It’s the end of the world but how near is it. The world is ending”. 

Image courtesy of Chuff Media

Moving on, we get to one of the instant highlights of this album – which is by far the most fun track. Beginning with a strong, thick, and groovy bassline (which do not worry, there is a LOT of in this album), We Make Hitstalks about the beginnings of starting a band – whether it’s meant to be autobiographical or not, they contrast the realities of having to make money and live a realistic life whilst also having that desire to break through out of the repetitive machine that is so many people’s lives. Sarcastic ad-libs and dry humour on this track really make the whole thing just pop. On a side note, the lyric “But not hits like Nile Rodgers” at the end of the track was just a fun nod for me – as although very little of Nile Rodgers’ influence comes through on this album, he is a phenomenal producer, songwriter, and musician, and he isn’t credited enough with what he’s done for the modern music!

The next song begins with a similar amount of funky bass, talking about what they were like when they were younger. This is another one of the tracks that feels as though it’s been produced incredibly, with additional layers of instruments going off left, right, and centre. We get treated to more of the cryptic dialogue sections at the end, which this time relates more to the song; “I was lost, I lived under a storm cloud, but I was a just a boy like you”. This song gets followed up by The Undertow, which was one of the weaker cuts on the album. They seem to have exhausted this sound a little, and it feels as though their energy is getting weaker.

At this point in the album, I started to realise how much of it is about the British experience. This is what I like to think of as the Arctic Monkeys effect, where they were so great at describing what it truly meant to be from England that every other even slightly northern group tried to do it, but in a way that ended up feeling forced to be mass-marketed to the general population. I noticed this, especially with bands like The Reytons – where their second album’s branding is so tied to trying to make them appear as though they get what it means to be British. It feels like a hollow façade and incredibly shallow. You’ve got lots of money now. You can stop pretending to be like the rest of us.

On that note, we move onto Dream Job, a song which – you guessed it – is about them having their dream job: working doing practically nothing at the top level of the corporate ladder. It begins with an insanely groovy bassline which I loved, although the refrain “It’s ace, top, mint, boss (that’s boss) Class, sweet, dece, not bad” does exactly what I just said. These are all words that one can use in conversation, but when you’ve put it through a studio, recorded, produced it and are over 25 years old – it comes across more as cringe than anything else. On top of that, there’s this synth line that they opted for on the chorus which detracts from what’s going on there. Fun song, but it just could have been better!

Fizzy Fish is one that I had to really pay attention to in order to understand what on earth they were talking about. It returns to a similar style as the earlier songs, this time talking about doing drugs as children. The bass continues to prevail as the guitars take more of a turn on this song, leading us into another dialogue outro suggesting that children just need to work and stop faffing about. Petroleum follows this song, which was one of the singles for this album. I struggled to understand why they went with this one as a single over others, as other songs previously had a lot more going for them. They do however seem to take a step back from this everything sound that they had going, and instead go for what I’d call a much more stereotypical indie sound. 

Image courtesy of Chuff Media

We move after that into When the Laughter Stops, their final single for this album, featuring Katy J Pearson. And this was a lowlight for me. The way that it started was incredibly promising, but then her vocals came in. I really, really did not like her vocals on this song – which is a massive shame. Yard Act provided what they had been this whole album in terms of energy, but Katy’s voice did not fit this song at all. I don’t know what decisions were made behind the scenes to get her onto this song, but I’d like to talk to the people who did that and tell them that they are stupid. All the Yard Act passages are very fun, with the gist of the song being that society sucks, we all work depressing jobs and life constantly beats us down. Although I completely understand this nihilistic approach they’re presenting, you rarely hear people talking about all the fun parts of life that go in between the boring job sections. That said, these people do work in the music industry, so maybe they just feel awfully superior to anyone who doesn’t have the fun, rock lifestyle that they get to lead.

Grifter’s grief was one that also struggled to make sense to me. Showing off how disgustingly middle class I am, I had to look up what a grifter was to understand what they were on about. (A swindler, for those of you who also grew up inside of a pretentious Tory bubble). Even then it wasn’t quite clear what they were on about – but sonically definitely a return to form. Each song individually on this album does feel fresh and exciting, it’s when you listen to them all in a row however, that you start to notice what works and what does with their sound, and which songs just are/aren’t as good. Grifter’s grief does, however, fall under that category of being a good example of the medium, with a fun, almost 80s-style solo right in the middle of the song.

Blackpool Illuminations is a behemoth of a song on this album, almost twice as long as the average track up to this point. This marks a distinct departure from what we’ve heard up to here –its premise is a guy talking about what it was like being young, with minimal instrumentation that builds up throughout the song. He talks about going to Blackpool as well as other trivial parts of his life growing up. It was a pleasant break towards the end of the album and fit in very nicely with the rest of what was going on.

The final song, A Vineyard for the North, sonically wraps up what they’d been doing up until this point. Albeit not that exciting a standalone song, it feels like a fitting end to the album, where they talk about what their utopia would be – in this case, a Vineyard for the North. Much of this song also follows that same spoken word style, but with a more dance-fuelled sound pushing the chorus.

This album was a first for me. If you haven’t heard anything like Yard Act before – I’d say that it’s worth giving even the first song a listen. This is a sound that I think many up-and-coming UK bands will be copying and deriving in the coming years, and Yard Act are definitely at the forefront of it. Song-wise, this was an enjoyable album – despite there definitely being some skips in the middle. Conceptually, this album flowed nicely – I love that feeling of listening to a whole album and hearing it as a complete experience. But please can bands do a better job of being relatable to the people – or just give up on it? A good love song always works as a treat as well. 

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