Yard Act – Where’s My Utopia?

Yorkshire quartet spread their net far and wild

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Whatever you say they are, that’s what they’re not. It’s a natural impulse of any band who have experienced sudden acclaim, and the reductive hype that goes with it, to kick hard against it creatively. Sometimes that’s to the point of commercial self-harm. So when Yard Act’s follow-up to their 2022 debut, the Mercury-nominated, The Overload, is peppered with sardonic self-referential asides, you’re immediately struck by the suspicion that this is their stab at leaving every party that would have them as members. The disagreeable second album, if you will.


“I was hot property once but now the promise has gone,” James Smith sneers on opening track “An Illusion”, and the inward focus continues on the biz-baiting anti-anthem “We Make Hits” (“and if this isn’t a hit, we’ll say it’s ironic”). As if his spiritual uncle and namesake Mark E has been reborn as an acolyte of the Arctic Monkeys, Smith relates, “We know there’s no surprising/Anyone with eyes and ears round here that we’re all gonna sink.”


That’s one of several such barbs, either side of Smith witheringly referring to his own band as “post-punk’s latest poster boys” who “ride on the coattails of the dead”. Yet there remains a vim and vigour about their sound that belies such lyrical pessimism. They’re still enjoying themselves on this rabble-rousing two-fingers to expectations, even if they can’t shake their inner critics: “We just wanna have some fun before we’re sunk/And if that’s the attitude you exude then you know you’re really punk!

Despite such apparent preoccupation with their own impending demise, Smith insists that during the process of creating Where’s My Utopia?, they managed to forget about “what dickheads will make of album two” (as they put it later on this album), allowing them to make the kind of sounds they always had in their heads but didn’t feel confident enough to on The Overload. The styles hopscotch freely, from the infectious urchin funk of “Dream Job” (think LCD Soundsystem backed by the Blockheads) through the blend of sprechsegang, dub, noise-rock and hip-hop found on “Fizzy Fish”, to the hardcore bluster that closes “Grifter’s Grief” and the echoes of Go-Go’s-style pop evoked by Katy J Pearson’s contribution to “When The Laughter Stops”.

The contrasts are heightened by the production help of Gorillaz drummer Remi Kabaka Jr, and the frequent stylistic handbrake turns also reflect the bipolar mood swings of some tracks and the meandering tales they tell. “Down By The Stream”’s story of teenage misadventure with “cherry cola can bongs” is set to clumsily ebullient, whooping Northern hip-hop, as if Cypress Hill had been relocated to Billinge Lump, but Smith’s admission of bullying triggers a stark swerve into sparse ambient noise and a flashback, where he broods about how he would brutally intimidate his own son if he bullied anyone – thereby continuing the cycle of abuse, of course.


Similarly digressive, in an equally compelling way, is the seven-minute “Blackpool Illuminations”. To sparse acoustic backing, Smith’s monologue about a childhood mishap in a Blackpool B&B segues into a more evocative meditation on teenage wanderlust, gracefully accompanied by subtle strings and bucolic woodwind, which then prove just as apt when the scene turns uncomfortably psychedelic as “the pill kicks in” for our young adventurers.

They can’t allow us to daydream for too long, though: suddenly the fourth wall cracks open, the symphony drops out and a cynical-sounding observer asks, “Are you making this up?” As the backdrop switches to woozy, funereal jazz, Smith explains, “Well, some of it, yeah… I didn’t want to burden anyone with the truth.” Whether it’s fact, fiction or more likely a mixture of both, over gentle folktronica he concludes, in answer to the album title, “I don’t need no Utopia, because the unknown’s the only hope for a brighter future.”

What that holds is hard to say after this unpredictable, freewheeling affair. It may not be fuelled by as many immediate hooks and gnarly grooves as The Overloa, but it’s a bold progression both musically and lyrically. So whether they like it or not, “post-punk’s latest poster boys” might be staying on our walls a while yet.


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Yorkshire quartet spread their net far and wildYard Act - Where’s My Utopia?