The Return of Yak?
Yak are back. It’s been a rough few years for the band since the release of their 2016 debut ‘Alas Salvation’, having been beset by debt, destruction, and the departure of not one but two bassists.
Under these pressures, the ‘difficult second album’ can be a make-or-break moment for a young band. Yak do not rise to the challenge.
Yak live shows are notoriously chaotic and ad lib, and this is the kind of music they do best. The album starts very much in this vein, with the riproaring ‘Bellyache’ coming in with a punch (and a panpipe intro). Surprising then, that Yak shortly follow up with two sprawling slow jams. ‘Words Fail Me’ and ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ are completely interchangeable and utterly forgettable, as is ‘Encore’. They do create a balance between the more energetic moments, and closing track ‘This House has no Living Room’ hits the right notes, with its soft, haunting tone, but overall, the slower tracks come nowhere close to their more upbeat companions.
After debut album Alas Salvation failed to attract mainstream success, despite a large bubbling of media hype around it, perhaps it’s no surprise Burslem opted to infuse Pursuit with elements of 70s pop-rock. The 70s are undoubtedly having a moment: Bohemian Rhapsody has reigned as the standout cinematic success of last year, Fleetwood Mac are performing a reunion tour, and when tween-pop icon Harry Styles ventured into the big world of solo artistry, he (or rather, his writers), opted for sweeping, Bowie-esque piano ballads. Most songs on the album channel one 70s trend or another, from spacey glam rock to classic rock ‘n’ roll. Burslem’s delivery carries the charisma of a true 20th century rockstar. Looking eerily similar to a young Mick Jagger, Burslem actually surpasses his doppelgänger in sheer character. This is the most outstanding aspect of the album: Burslem manages to capture the hysteria of his live performances and crystallise them on the record (on some of the songs, at least). While not quite matching up to the unstoppable energy of its predecessor, Pursuit is a musical diary of a man gripped by unshakable passion.
Pursuit of momentary happiness delivers exactly that: momentary happiness.
Oscar Wilde famously said ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’. Burslem and co seem to have held this principle firmly in mind. Not just taking inspiration from the 70s, they co-opt many defining features of Fat White Family’s music, and even steal from themselves (‘Layin’ it on the Line’ starts with a guitar riff reminiscent of early track ‘Take It’). The result is a group of songs that lack direction. While the mark of a good second album is the ability to develop and mature one’s sound whilst still retaining an idiosyncratic personal style, Yak take too much from their outside influences and lose the qualities that made their debut so fresh and exciting. ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ is confused: it tries on several influences, and none of them quite fit right. It stands in the musical changing room with two arms full of unwanted clothes.
It is difficult to write punk in the 21st century. There is certainly plenty of material to draw from (the desperate state of the world becomes more and more apparent by the day), but the genre lacks a more nuanced approach - anyone can pick up a guitar, play three chords and scream about injustice. Yak’s attempts to inject excitement into the genre are certainly admirable, and they should be commended for experimentation, but their musical flourishes do not detract from the fact that the lyrics are generally unexceptional. There are only so many times vague statements about the greed of the rich can be tolerated - while you can’t argue with the sentiment, you’re left wanting a more sophisticated analysis.
There are some standout moments: ‘Payoff vs. the struggle’ throbs ominously before launching into a raucous frenzy. ‘Layin’ It On the Line’ provides emotional catharsis. At other points, however, the album feels decidedly sluggish. Pursuit of momentary happiness delivers exactly that: momentary happiness.