Yard Act: The Overload, review: a thrilling, razor-sharp debut
“The last bastion of hope this once great nation had left was good music,” proclaims James Smith on Dead Horse, one of 11 razor-sharp cuts from Yard Act’s thrilling debut album, The Overload. One implication, of course, is that this almost preeningly super-confident and hotly lauded Leeds quartet are, indeed, that self same bastion, offering a glimmer of redemption in a culturally apocalyptic post-Brexit scene where “all that’s left is nob heads Morris Dancing to Sham 69.”
That particular musical reference is an odd one though. Do their youthful audience know who Sham 69 are: a second-wave punk group whose shouty anthems attracted National Front support much to the despair of the band themselves? It feels like a joke from 1979, a kind of heavy wink to true believers.
Indeed, Yard Act’s wiry bass-driven and angular guitar sound reaches back into that same era, when a coterie of adventurous British groups mined a dark seam of arty post-punk, often with a sloganeering bent in response to the political turmoil of the times. It is not hard to detect the influence of The Gang of Four, the Pop Group, PIL and particularly Mancunian iconoclasts The Fall, who (four years after the death of incorrigible frontman Mark E. Smith) seem to have grown in influence.
It is a genre without a name, because “post punk poetics” does not do it justice. But there is certainly a lot of it about, with scene leaders Sleaford Mods, Idles and Fontaines DC inspiring a wave of recitational bands including Shame, Sports Team, The Murder Club, Dry Cleaning and Black Country, New Road. Mostly dispensing with vocal melodies without venturing towards the complexity of rap, this style offers a declamatory platform with a tight focus on lyrical phrasing, where each line can carry the weight of a slap.
Yard Act bring something else to the party though, a quality of comical mischief. There is a sophistication to the language, a deepened level of irony, that facilitates impactful messages whilst being delivered with a great spirit of humour and even joy. They are a band for listeners who have already grown bored of being shouted at.
Yard Act’s musical vignettes burst with sonic ideas and energy, whilst Smith’s bone-dry northern-accented vocals punch from the front, dripping with tones of smarmily seductive sarcasm. Yet his lyrical nuance and sophistication subtly softens an implicit air of smart-alec superiority. Rich, Land of the Blind and Quarantine the Sticks jab satirically at the iniquities of capitalism but Smith often adopts a contrary point of view, compelling listeners to question the seductive appeal of his spiel. “Being a hypocrite does not devalue the merit of the accusations being made,” he proposes on The Incident.
The Overload is a very fine debut from a group that sound like they think they are smarter, funnier and fiercer than all of their peers, and just might prove to be. There is, it turns out, hope for British music after all.
Yard Act: The Overload (Zen FC) is out now