If we all must fall victims to the ceaseless malaise that is our slowly unfolding apocalypse, it’s at least fortunate that our misery is soundtracked by the quirked-up observers in the current U.K. post-punk scene. Dubbed “The Post-Brexit New Wave,” groups like Squid, Black Country, New Road, and Dry Cleaning have proven themselves compelling cultural narrators, capturing the essence of our entropy through their bluntly disorienting lyrics and often deadpan, ironic styles.
Enter Yard Act. A little bit Sleaford Mods, a helping of The Fall and a dash of Pulp, the group craft smart vignettes of modern life with a confident, witty delivery across their debut full-length, The Overload. Be it as someone recently flush with cash observing their own transformation at the hand of wealth, or a football captain whose life was washed away in a sea of disinterest, the sharp observations of vocalist James Smith contort everyday melancholy into a charming self-portrait—functioning like a reminder of the absurdities and pitfalls of life that define and unite us in the human condition.
This unique way of finding humor in the otherwise depressing is part of what sets Yard Act apart from their more morose peers. Take the title track: Set to a high-energy, undeniably funky instrumental, Smith’s seemingly drunken narrator proselytizes with excerpts like, “Kids these days think they’ve been hard done by / but they’ve never even looked at an iron lung like I did once,” and references your “dickhead singer” who “better not get political” unless he wants to end up in the back of an ambulance. The sheer amount of detail is at once funny, overwhelming and cleverly provocative, presenting not only a clear portrait of a Britain after Brexit, but also a semi-psychological examination of its barely lucid protagonist.
On “Payday,” set against a prominent, slightly sexy bassline from Ryan Needham that harkens back to the heyday of Franz Ferdinand, Smith asks, “What constitutes a ghetto?” before declaring, “We all make the same sound when we get mowed down.” Yard Act and The Overload thrive in this sort of tonal juxtaposition between exuberant instrumentation and depressingly apt and familiar dissections of the modern age. “Land of the Blind” functions in a similar way, grimly anticipating the end result of a gruesome culture of war and violence while leaving space for the humor of somebody robbing a 50-pence piece from you, all complemented by a catchy backing vocal melody.
Much of The Overload concerns itself with the poisonous effects of wealth and unchecked ambition, such as “The Incident,” in which a prominent go-getter is faced with the looming threat of irrelevance in the digital age after a well-publicized mistake, or on the excellent “Rich,” in which an anti-capitalist watches themself slowly distort into the image of greed and wealth. Both of these tracks detail through different means the ceaseless rise in desperation exemplified by people like NFT bros, so despairing of our current oppressive systems that they’re willing to publicly delude themselves into thinking their ugly ape picture will one day make them a millionaire. “The farmer doesn’t want his cows getting what the other cows have got,” Smith chants.
Towards the end of the album, “Pour Another” serves as an interesting outlier. Not only does it verge on radio-pop territory, but it also describes an atmosphere in which everyone is accepted, everything will be okay, but we just have to accept that the world is inevitably going to go to shit. In many ways, this is the underlying thesis of The Overload: There really isn’t any hope in our bleak future, but we can at least find joy in the moments of humanity, both good and bad, that define us in times of crisis.
Jason Friedman is a freelance writer from Philadelphia who may or may not be a ghost.