Island/Zen F.C. · January 21, 2022
“The poor bastards of what will forever be known as Generation Z are doomed to be the first generation of Americans who will grow up with a lower standard of living than their parents enjoyed.” – Hunter S. Thompson
When spending your formative years witnessing what seems to be the active collapse of human civilization, it takes a load off the psyche to look for the positive bits. Yard Act, a new Leeds-based post-punk band invigorated by the complete disarray of the rotting husk of the British Empire, is one such silver lining. The bastard child of late-stage capitalism’s socio-political turmoil mixed with a pandemic, Yard Act’s debut album The Overload is a resounding display of helplessness, frustration, irreverence, and most importantly, dry humor.
When post-punk is mentioned, it’s easy for the mind to immediately jump to the new British post-punk phenomenon that’s been loosely labeled as anything from the Post-Brexit New Wave to the “Windmill Scene,” a term referencing a venue in Brixton at which many of the bands associated with the movement are known to perform, or just hang out. These notably young acts — Black Country, New Road (BCNR), black midi, and Squid, to name a few — all emerged or rose to notoriety in or around 2019, ascending through the ranks of London’s underground scenes for their entrancing rejections of genre and authority.
Yet, despite being identical in their genre and British origin, Yard Act is set apart from their contemporaries for two main reasons — their straightforward and guitar-based sound is much more Gang of Four than King Crimson, but more importantly, their lyrical content is purely and unabashedly political. The Overload, Yard Act’s debut album, skewers every modern entity under the sun (not that the sun has ever managed to shine on Britain). Through the full run of the album, vocalist and lyricist James Smith’s vicious drawl tears into everything from gentrifiers with “ghetto fetish[es]” to middle-aged soccer players to himself.
The opener and title track “The Overload” is fast-paced and upbeat, with its narration split between the perspectives of various people sitting in a pub, including a baby boomer complaining about this generation’s weakness, a hopeless youngster unable to comprehend a meaning in life, and a concert promoter telling Smith to cut the politics or he’ll end up “…in the back of an ambulance / With the mic stand rammed up his arse twice over.” Following it is the slightly weaker song “Dead Horse.” While Smith’s voice bristles with the ferocity of his anger at the wretched state England is struggling to stay afloat in, the instrumental lacks the appropriate punch to support these vocals. Subsequent songs include “Payday,” a rant about class fetishism intact with an incredibly catchy chorus and a wonderfully goofy bridge, and “Land of the Blind,” which calls out the depravity of those who are complacent in times of political crisis — and ends with Smith performing a magic trick. Bookending the album are its two beaming highlights, “Tall Poppies” and “100% Endurance.”
“Tall Poppies” clocks in at six minutes and 21 seconds. It’s the longest track on the album by far, about the entire tragic life, “from cradle to grave,”. of an unnamed man. Although he lived a very charmed upbringing — handsome, athletic, and beloved by his village — our protagonist chose not to venture away from home on his own path into the exciting outside world, but rather, to stick with what’s comfortable and familiar. He gets a job in real estate, marries his high school sweetheart, and starts a family. Eventually, the cracks that form in every perfect little suburban life start to appear. He has to send his mother to a nursing home, he gets phased out at his job, and his marriage starts to fall apart — “In the hopes of stoking the coals of two long lost souls / Which comes first, counseling or keys in the bowl?” Eventually, he dies of old age — happy? Maybe. His funeral is packed with everyone from the village, and no one says a single bad word about him. The narrator seems to suggest that he was a close friend of our deceased hero, and begins to ponder upon whether this protagonist would have lived a better life should he have ever left the village, or whether a life lived in this unique form of ignorance really could have been bliss.
“100% Endurance,” the last song on the album, is a bittersweet tale of humanity finding out that– yes!!! We’ve managed to communicate with some extraterrestrial life out there!! But– they have no idea what the purpose of life is, either. With a more mellow sound, similar to Slaughter Beach, Dog’s song “At the Moonbase”, the premise is so silly that it’s almost adorable, conjuring images of a Mike Wazowski-esque alien species having its own existential crisis to mirror ours’. It’s unclear if that’s the only message of the song, as the beautifully poignant chorus seems to describe the process of getting over someone. Knowing Yard Act’s penchant for humor, it may as well be. The song provides a beautiful wrap-up to both the stellar album and the introduction of the band to the music scene. It even containing a throwback to their hit single “Fixer Upper” that started it all, with an in-joke reference to its narrator Graeme.
While Smith has eschewed Yard Act’s post-punk label, proclaiming that “[They’ll] outgrow it like every other band worth their salt will,” the genre is certainly one built for channeling righteous anger through jagged but groovy music, something that Yard Act has proven they are very, very good at.