Home Read Albums Of The Week: Yard Act | Where’s My Utopia?

Albums Of The Week: Yard Act | Where’s My Utopia?

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Since the release of their debut album The Overload, Leeds band Yard Act — frontman and vocalist James Smith, bassist Ryan Needham, guitarist Sam Shjipstone and drummer Jay Russell — have become one of the most exciting indie success stories of this decade.

They’ve ticked off previously unimaginable milestones: Landing at No. 2 on the U.K. charts; debuting on Later … with Jools Holland in the U.K. and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in the U.S.; being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize; and even collaborating with Elton John, who joined the band to guest on a reworking of The Overload album closer, 100% Endurance. They’ve spent the past two years traversing the globe, playing festivals from Tokyo to Texas, and selling out tour after tour along the way.

While the band’s trajectory continued to shoot upwards, and the brotherly bond between the four band members strengthened, Smith and his wife welcomed their first child. This dueling sense of responsibility and ambition, guilt, love, drive and everything in between forms the narrative backbone of Yard Act’s brilliantly exploratory second album, Where’s My Utopia?, co-produced with Gorillaz member Remi Kabaka Jr.

Photo by Phoebe Fox.

Lead single Dream Job “feels like an apt introduction to the themes explored on Where’s My Utopia? — though not all encompassing,” comments Smith. “In part, I was scrutinizing and mocking myself for being a moaning ungrateful little brat, whilst also trying to address how the music industry is this rather uncontrollable beast that hurtles forward unthinkingly and every single person involved in it plays their part. Myself included, obviously. As with pretty much everything else going through my head last year, trying to find the right time to articulate the complexity of emotions I was feeling and the severity to which I was feeling them couldn’t be found — or accommodated, so instead I tried to capture it in a pop song that lasts less than three minutes once the fog had cleared a bit. It’s good and bad. I’m still glad that everything that happened to me happened.”

The song is wryly upbeat, and lands like The Blockheads doing Club Tropicana — a not entirely believable thumbs up from the trenches. The Dream Job video was directed by James Slater, marking the band and director’s seventh collaboration (“with many more to come”).

Written in snapshots of time in the midst of touring, the album is a giant leap forward into broad and playful new sonic waters, sprinkled with strings, choirs, and voice-acting clips courtesy of comedian pals Nish Kumar, Rose Matafeo and more. It was a communal four-way effort built on chemistry, familiarity and the trust to challenge and push each other creatively. “The main reason that ‘post-punk’ was the vehicle for album 1 was because it was really affordable to do, but we always liked so much other music and this time we’ve had the confidence to embrace it,” James explains. Across the record, influences range from Fela Kuti to Ennio Moricone via Spiller’s ‘00s pop smash Groovejet.

It’s a celebratory palette upon which Smith allowed himself to reach lyrically deeper into himself than ever. Gone, largely, are the outward-facing character studies of yore, replaced with a set of songs that stare fully into the headlights of life, wrangling with the frontman’s own fears and foibles to create a sort of Promethean narrative — but with jokes. “You can commit to the idea that we’re just animals who eat and fuck and then we die, and that’s fine,” he suggests. “But for me, creativity always seems to be the best way of articulating the absolute minefield of what human existence is.”