If their first record Alas Salvation had caught – for good reason – the attention of both critics and audiences as something bold and new that was worth keeping an eye on, this second release by Yak makes it very clear that they are far more than a simple passing glitch. On the contrary, they are here to stay, and rather than smoothing out their rough edges they’re making them ever sharper. This is a bold, uncompromising record that feels very much like a declaration of intent, and at the same time it is a natural descendant of Alas Salvation, carrying over the band’s distinctive fingerprints but much more focused and mature.
Yak have such a personal, unique sound (or rather a concoction of sounds; the ability to unexpectedly and abruptly shift from one to the other is one of their greater strengths) that it can be very hard to figure out what influences have contributed in its building. In Pursuit of Momentary Happiness one may detect traces of the later Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Roy Orbison, the hardcore punk of the late ’80s, the psychedelia of the late ’70s, perhaps even a hint of Leonard Cohen, and occasionally all of the above at the same time. The result is a sound that is, amazingly, coherently chaotic, rough and dirty one moment and deceptively soothing the next, ranging from raw anger to dazed displacement, yet without ever feeling disconnected. If Alas Salvation came across as a brilliant collection of intriguing suggestions, Pursuit of Momentary Happiness has managed the difficult task of bringing them all together into a cohesive, tight, sometimes disturbing package.
Frontman Oli Burslem displays the whole wide range of his vocals in this work, going from cold and cutting to sultry and low within the same track, in a mixture of fury and manic glee. He is an incredibly charismatic vocalist; his work on tracks such as title track ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness‘ and the ominous/triumphant ‘Words Fail Me‘ is magnetic and refined. The band is not afraid of big sounds, and some tracks are boisterous and full-bodied; one might think of the intense ‘Layin’ It On The Line,’ where a well-rounded, loud sound ultimately devolves into madness, or the darker, tougher ‘Blinded By The Lies,’ where bass and guitar hammer the listener into a state of misplacement that matches the lyrics.
The lyrics themselves are clever, sarcastic, and very much in tune with contemporary disquiet. The momentary happiness the title refers to looks a lot more disturbing when the lyrics suggest that it might be reached through anesthesia: “If nobody felt a thing/ No love, no lust, nothing/ If nobody felt any pain/ But that just ain’t living.” Singles ‘Bellyache‘ and ‘Fried‘ are more openly satirical. The former is a cleverly obsessive album-opener, starting with Pan flutes and distorted vocals and echoing the language of contemporary politics in a cutting, snarky way: “Got a cake and eat it/ Now you’ve got bellyache”, “Is it the many or is it the few.” The latter is a little gem, packing perhaps the strongest punch in the whole album and containing what one suspects might be, in a nutshell, the band’s whole philosophy: “There’s no one here to pull my plug/ Now I’m going to stop when I’m on my back/ I’m going to stop when I collapse.”
Like the band behind it, this is what the album feels like: an uncompromising, unstoppable force ready to take everything to its ultimate consequences, enamoured with extremes and with a dizzying addictive personality. It’s the kind of powerful force rock music much needs. Frequently the album sounds like a challenge, and if that is the case, the bar is set pretty high for anyone wishing to rise to it.
Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is out now via Virgin EMI/Third Man Records – available to Stream/Purchase here.
Yak will also be headlining a tour in March and April:
Friday 29th – Castle & Falcon, Birmingham
Saturday 30th – Arts Centre, Norwich
Monday 1st – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
Tuesday 2nd – O2 Academy 2, Oxford
Wednesday 3rd – The Dome, London
Friday 5th – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Saturday 6th – Bodega Social Club, Nottingham
Monday 8th – Arts Club, Liverpool
Tuesday 9th – YES, Manchester
Thursday 11th – The Cluny, Newcastle
Friday 12th – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
Saturday 13th – Whelan’s, Dublin