At one point during Yak’s second album, frontman Oli Burslem delivers a yowling rendition of ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’. It’s a fitting cover choice really. Tipped as a band with enormous talent, and renowned for their visceral live shows, Yak sort of did have it all ahead of them when they began work on this record. The Wolverhampton trio had a queue of supportive indie figureheads behind them hoping to collaborate. Yak’s music, though, has never come from somewhere that’s comfortable and cushy, and instead, the road to ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ has been rocky.
Following the release of 2016 debut ‘Alas, Salvation’, Burslem was bursting with grand but vague ambitions for a follow-up. He initially hatched plans to record with Tame Impala ringleader Kevin Parker at his Perth studio. Instead though, Burslem and drummer Elliot Rawson ended up embarking on a hedonistic detour to Tokyo, and despite their plan for self-imposed artistic isolation, the trip morphed into something akin to a straight-up booze-fest. Perth was a similar story. “It was an eye-opener, like, what the fuck are we going to?” Burslem said of their attempted writing retreat.
Returning back to the UK empty-handed, having squandered their entire advance, the singer ended up living out of his clapped-out old Citroën, barely scraping enough money together to get the tube. It’s really lucky, then, that Yak happened to meet Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce around this time. A benevolent, perhaps paternal figure for the band, Pierce helped them get a new record deal and set them up with a studio. A burst of destructive, blurry, creativity followed – and ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ documents the whole thing.
“No, I’m a white male carnivore/ With a low pain threshold,” snarls Oli Burslem on ‘White Male Carnivore’. There’s theatrical menace in his delivery, but there’s also a sense that he’s hamming up the image of the strutting, pouting rock star in order to tear it down. For every nod ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ makes to icons of old (shades of Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, The Doors aren’t just present, they’re painted like the the bold brush-strokes slopping across the album’s cover art), there’s scepticism from Burslem. Often, he questions if the dream is worth it after all, and scrabbles behind the swaggering bravado in search of contentment. ‘Bellyache’ gorges itself on cake and nurses a swollen gut. “There’s no one here to pull my plug,” he fuzzes on ‘Fried’.
‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ is excessive at times. From most other bands a swooning old-time ballad like ‘Encore’ and the slightly indulgent power-ballad ‘Words Fail Me’ would raise a big alarm. Somehow though, in Yak’s case they just about get away with it. Excess, after all, is how this record was created in the first place.