Before you first press play on Yard Act’s debut album The Overload, you may be forgiven for wondering whether this was about to be more of the same. As post-punk continues its rise, it’s hard not to compare the Leeds outfit to other groups who have been there and done that. Fontaines D.C. and Idles are examples of two bands in a long list of artists who’ve successfully brought the genre to closer the forefront of the scene. What those bands have done is fantastic and should be applauded, and many may be hoping that Yard Act can do something like they have to help the post-punk and indie causes. Make no mistake though, Yard Act are not Idles; they are not Fontaines D.C. They are something else entirely.
The Overload is full to the brim with interesting themes and concepts that unfold via the voice of lead vocalist James Smith. The unmistakable Leeds accent, mostly presented in spoken word is backed by Ryan Needham on bass guitar, Jay Russell on drums, and Sam Shipstone on lead guitar. Considering the band are less than two years old, it’s fair to say they are incredibly tight with a distinctive sound that usually only comes after years of playing together. Perhaps that’s a product of the fact that Smith and Needham had already been part of the excellent Post War Glamour Girls and Menace Beach respectively; experiences that have surely helped them polish The Overload.
The first and title track of the album introduces us perfectly to the band, an incredible combination of high-energy music backing a thoughtful takedown of the current state of the country. Smith takes the part of a drunk man loudly expressing his thoughts on various things, generally saying things like “kids these days think they’ve been hard done by, but they’ve never even looked at an iron lung” as the band pokes fun at the generational divide that has developed over the past decade. The more serious points are punctuated beautifully by moments of comedy and irony not often found in albums like this.
Yard Act are not scared to show their teeth on Dead Horse in which they offer their views on the fall-out from Brexit in an explicit, uncensored, unapologetic criticism of the situation the country has found itself in. Commenting on fake news, racism and the stupidity that the band believes has taken over the country, Smith sings “I’m not scared of people who don’t look like me, unlike you.” The furious message is complimented perfectly by the backdrop of a funky guitar riff and creeping bass line.
Witness and Payday offer something of a more classic punk rock feel than the rest of the album and perfectly execute them with fantastic high energy feel with Smith opting to sing a bit more than on other tracks. The result is two solid punk rock songs, though Payday does contain more of Smith’s signature angry spoken-word and a flute solo to close the song that makes it stick out.
One of the various characters Smith plays is the man who has recently come into money on Rich. This track and the one that follows are a perfect example of what Yard Act does so well on the album; a moody bassline that snarls the listener and a disturbing synth crescendo surrounding the lyrics about becoming rich and losing control of themselves.
The following song The Incident follows a similar blueprint as Smith expertly critiques the rise of desperation for relevance in society and an increasingly futile clamour to be rich. Smith once again plays a successful man who is staring down the barrel of irrelevance. Supported by another catchy, almost playful bassline and a whirring guitar, the song is a post-punk dream and one of the best on the album.
Musically, the album is superb, Jay Russell’s drumming is fantastic throughout and does not overpower the rest of the music, but rather compliments every single riff and bassline perfectly. This is showcased most on Land of the Blind which is a fantastic combination of funky bass riffs and guitar work that the band has made clear is their trademark during the album.
Tall Poppies encapsulates the band perfectly in six minutes, the longest track of the album has Smith describing the life of an average man from childhood to death. The song describes the minutia of everyday life and the ennui that most of us must endure with an almost joyful piece of music behind it. As with the rest of the songs on the album, comedy serves as a fantastic outlet for the band as Smith shows some self-awareness singing after the character has died “he wasn’t too fond of long songs with lots of words.”
The Overload does exactly what it set out to do, Smith and his bandmates have expressed their explicit views on several important matters and done so whilst making excellent music too. If the album is self-indulgent, and it is, then that’s because the band has confidence in themselves that the music they’re making is good, and the things they have to say are important. This confidence isn’t misplaced, this album is superb, and there’s nothing wrong with indulgence.