Yard Act : Where’s My Utopia?

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Yard Act Where's My Utopia review

Be careful what you wish for, goes the old adage, because it might just come true. Unfortunately for Yard Act, the runaway success of their 2022 debut The Overload means it’s a little late for them to heed that particular warning. Yet this is a band with the wherewithal to do the next best thing—which in their case meant to bundle up all of lyricist James Smith’s rather conflicted thoughts on having quite rapidly hit the big time, and squeeze them as best they could into one vaguely manageable, semi-comprehensible mental snapshot. The application of a few groovy basslines and thumping beats later, and we’ve got what just so happens to be one of the most sonically rewarding, narratively ambitious, and emotionally compelling releases from any band in the British rock scene for years. Which is actually kind of funny, because the album is all about how becoming a successful musician won’t really solve any of your problems. But then, this is Yard Act we’re talking about—a band for whom irony is as vital as oxygen and twice as abundant.

Yard Act’s first record had them pegged as one of many acts riding the crescendoing crest of the British post-punk revival (though indisputably as one of the best on the scene), but Where’s My Utopia? wastes absolutely no time in smashing that impression to pieces. What’s nice, though, is that the band achieves this not by simply dumping their post-punk trappings in favor of something completely different, but by keeping and building on them. Smith’s charismatic drawl, skittering with casual, witty confidence over the band’s infectious rhythms, still upholds that honorable tradition, beginning in the bowels of late-‘70s Manchester, of never quite deciding whether he’s singing, reciting poetry, rapping, or just talking. The music is still largely bass-driven, and the guitars, snaking and twirling their way around Smith’s meticulous aphorisms, certainly constitute a sound that you might call “jangly.”

What’s new is the dizzying, cascading haze of synths and samples, of horns, of record scratches, and disorienting vocal effects that, for all their sense of desperate, chaotic frenzy, really serve as the indispensable anchor that fixes the themes and stories of the album in place. The sounds culminate in something of a whirlwind, often feeling—in the case of songs like “Fizzy Fish” or “Down by the Stream”—like a shifting barrage of ideas or concepts that emerge from the narrator’s subconscious, and scramble over each other to reach you, only to dissolve upon contact with your ears. It’s the kind of thing that makes Where’s My Utopia? feel like an album that’s constantly slipping out of your grasp—though in a way that inspires curiosity and exhilaration rather than any kind of annoyance.

Indeed, pondering the symbolic significance of all these little snippets is all part of the fun. The regular appearance of sampled conversations—not to mention the band’s fluid approach to genre, borrowing unapologetically from the likes of disco, hip-hop, indie, grunge, and dance, often all within the same song—gives the impression of someone flicking endlessly through radio channels. Is this Yard Act’s way of trying to place themselves within the modern media landscape, a meta-statement on their newfound fame? Or perhaps a comment on the superficial, inattentive attitude that society develops towards music when artistry is forced to take a backseat to commercialism?

Whatever the reason (perhaps it’s both, and there’s a moment in track 10, “Blackpool Illuminations” that suggests it might be something else entirely), it makes for a fantastic framing device that carries us—or perhaps launches us—from one chapter of the album to the next. The flow of Where’s My Utopia is without a doubt one of its most commendable aspects, to the extent that one of its few downsides might be that none of the songs feel quite as invigorating individually as they do within the context of the entire album as played from start to finish. It’s certainly true that I personally found it hard to get too excited about the album’s advance singles, which I listened to, by necessity of the medium, singularly.

Alas, Where’s My Utopia? is just not the sort of album that works that way. It’s a large, bold, and thematically cohesive work of art that functions best when all constituent parts are present. To get the most out of it, one ought to absorb it in one go, paying attention to every fine detail that erupts from the sensational collision of Smith’s lyrics and the band’s musicianship. It won’t be too much of a chore, as it’s brilliant.

Label: Island

Year: 2024

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Yard Act Where's My Utopia review

Yard Act : Where’s My Utopia?

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