Zen F.C./Island Records
Once every so often an album comes out that encapsulates a period in time and Yard Act’s debut LP ‘The Overload’ is that for the 2020s. Let’s cut to the chase, the Leeds quartet have created a very, very special body of work that carries on the lineage of the UK’s rich musical history. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own comparisons to Yard Act’s whip-crack indie-rock; what with its razor sharp lyrics, dry wit and a particular Englishness – have fun plotting that Venn diagram.
‘The Overload’ is a concept record of sorts, it charts the meanderings of an unnamed character (a figure constructed from a mishmash of different personalities observed by lead singer James Smith), as they navigate modern-day Britain; soul-destroying office work, feeling the burden of current affairs and the constant slew of information, tired activism and the crushing dichotomy of wanting to do the right thing but also the comfort of conformity are just some of the potholes our faceless protagonist traverses. This is all laced together by Smith’s endless spoken-word delivery and a sonic tapestry that draws in post-punk, new wave, indie-rock, hip-hop and everything else in-between. Even referencing those genres doesn’t hit the nail on the end as far as the foursome’s aural personality goes. It takes a unique outfit to make guitar music sound fresh *fingers guns aimed right at you Yard Act.
Bouncing into play via the LP’s eponymous opening track, the Leeds unit set the tone with a song fuelled with boundless energy, as Smith’s rapid fire vocals converge with Ryan Needham’s chugging bass, Jay Russell’s propulsive drums and Sam Shjipstone’s twanging guitar play. Breathlessly, Smith documents life in England, all wrapped up in his broad Yorkshire accent “the overload of discontent/the constant burden of making sense” like someone who’s grown frustrated by the behaviours he regularly witnesses. As with most songs on ‘The Overload’, a wry slice of humour isn’t that far away, as Smith tells the story about getting gigs in the local area “if you’re planning on making some decent money from it/you’re better off kicking that dickhead singer you got in out the band” before being encouraged to speak to “Fat Andy” at the local pub. ‘Dead Horse’ announces itself with a shadowy refrain and a kind of hip-hop swagger that goes right for England’s misguided jugular, as Smith refers to this fair isle (I’m an British writer BTW) as “a crackpot country full of cunts”. The vocalist will go on to comment how the country has destroyed its last bastions of hope; music and humour.
That’s a kind of reverse Meta observation given Yard Act’s music is fucking brilliant and hilarious – help us Yard Act, you’re our only hope! By taking a swipe at societal flaws, Smith isn’t afraid to throw shade when he sees something that needs rallying against, namely bigotry “I’m not scared of people who don’t look like me/unlike you” and “the idea racism is something we should humour” need no further commentary. The excellent yet overwhelmingly sad “England my heart bleeds/you’ve abandoned me/but I’ve abandoned you too” speaks volumes when depicting a fracture nation, divided by politics, wealth and class. Later into the record ‘Land of the Blind’ casts another disparaging side-eye at a country that’s lost its way; via a sauntering bass thrum and a steadfast beat, Smith will state “make no mistake/we’re living out our last days in the land of the blind”. ‘Tall Poppies’ is an album’s worth of material within ‘The Overload’, as Smith and Co chart the lifespan of a young man who’s the classic ‘big fish in a small pond’ kind of chap. Great at football, a hit with the ladies but he never ventured far from the village (or is that a “small town”), he eventually gets a job, starts a family and so on. A cosy life of sheltered modernity is detailed by Smith as he calmly claims at the end “If I were him I wouldn’t have left the village either/but I did”.
Aside from chronicling the many cracks in the UK’s pavement, Yard Act’s lyrical inspiration can be interpreted in a more general fashion; ‘Pour Another’s drum machine hiss and mechanical gallop stokes a quirky pop nous, as a playful synth acts as a nice offset to Smith trilling “whilst we stand around/hand in hand/watching the world burn”. ‘The Incident’ squirms and writhes as Smith regales us with a tale of crooked business dealings while a snaking guitar motif, a throbbing bass line and a firm drum lick wrap themselves around the choice lyrics “everybody has dirt on everybody else nowadays”, which sounds like a line taken right from Succession.
‘Payday’s baggy-esque strut is another example of Yard Act’s exemplary use of juxtaposition, as a quirky soundscape documents the stranglehold of austerity. While you can view ‘The Overload’ as an LP that savagely tears down modern times, through tears and laughter, it’s brought to a close by ‘100% Endurance’s life- affirming call to arms. It’s like the band and their nameless character have reached an epiphany; while we’re on this earth, do your best to live well and be good to others. Smith epitomises this via “give it everything you got/knowing you can’t take it with you” and “give it some of that good stuff/give it some of that human spirit/and cut it with 100% endurance” before the song erupts into a colourful, joyous explosion of positivity.
The more you listen to ‘The Overload’, the more you uncover, it’s a record of copious nooks and crannies. I think I’ve said enough, it’s fucking brilliant – listen to it, love it and never let it go.
Pre-order by The Overlord by Yard Act HERE