If the thought of a 30-something band signed to Island, making guitar anthems and gunning for a Number One slot in the year 2022 sounds too absurd to stomach, you’re probably not on your own: Yard Act would be cackling along with you. But this is the curious, wonderful scenario the Leeds band find themselves with their debut album ‘The Overload’, the latest British guitar record to battle for chart glory. After knocking about on the city’s scene for the past decade – frontman James Smith in Post War Glamour Girls, bassist Ryan Needham in psych-duo Menace Beach – their investment in a new project is about to pay dividends: one last nudge on the fruit machine has paid out a winner.
Yard Act acknowledge their brand of playful, arty and often righteous debut arrives during a fertile period for British guitar music. They follow bands like IDLES and Shame – who broke the mainstream with high-charting records and massive festival slots – and sidle in nicely behind bands like Dry Cleaning and Goat Girl whose music is at once surreal and sentimental. Little surprise Yard Act have been snapped up by a major label, sheepishly looking to get their mitts back on a scene and sound they’d long abandoned.
In truth, the band’s witty streak has more in common with Notts renegades Sleaford Mods or even Pulp and its mercurial frontman Jarvis Cocker, a charmer who also relished throwing mis-shapes on NME’s front page. Smith, however, credits the rise of Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys in the mid-noughties as informing the tone of his songwriting: “The way Alex Turner wrote lyrics around social observation definitely helped me grow in confidence,” he told NME in last week’s Big Read. “To go into that amount of detail on specific objects, to make them seem poignant and profound was really cool. Before that, the music I was listening to wasn’t doing that.”
Much like Arctic Monkeys’ 2005 debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, Smith gleefully introduces a cast of memorable characters: there’s the title track’s surly drinker who suggests chucking the “dickhead singer out the band” and sticking to covers; on ‘Tall Poppies’, one footballing prodigy’s dreams at Crewe Alexandra FC wither away, and they’re left to rue what might have been. The fact that the band were able to jilt poor Graeme, the Rover-owning, two-home boaster from their absent breakout single ‘Fixer Upper’, is a testament to the faith in their ensemble.
Smith is the most memorable, fascinating character to emerge on ‘The Overload’; he proves himself a lyricist capable of humour, insight, and, most importantly, compassion. Sloganeering and barked phrases won’t cut it, and instead, he searches for the middle-ground and reasonable voice. Album closer ‘100% Endurance’ flirts with ideas as grand as extraterrestrial beings, but the maturity and wisdom – something many of their contemporaries will soon arrive at – shines through: “Give it everything you’ve got knowing that you can’t take it with you/And all you ever needed to exist has always been within you”. Seldom do you hear such sentimentality and beauty in music as brusque as this.
The familiar touchstones of the post-punk scene’s rigid sound – minimalist grooves, sharp guitars – are all here, but the band thrive when they shake up the magic eight ball. ‘Payday’ could settle for something mundane, but the ravey finale, complete with throbbing bass and a juvenile flute riff, is so absurd and unusual, you wonder why more bands don’t dive elbow-deep into their bag of tricks. Their time in a diverse array of groups on the Leeds scene results in a record that’s at once funky (‘Dead Horse’) and spunky (‘Witness’, ‘The Incident’) – even when they slip into cliche (‘Rich’) they sound better than most.
The tunes, however, are secondary to how miraculous the story of Yard Act existing is, really. Having made their debut just 18 months ago, and now due for an upcoming sold-out slate of UK shows, their journey is a reminder that the most rewarding endeavours – in life or art – sometimes arrive later than you expect or had hoped. Good things may come to those who wait patiently, but for those who put the graft in, like Yard Act, it tastes all the sweeter.
- Release date: January 21
- Record label: Island