There is something collegiate about rock ‘n’ roll. The beer, the spills, the raw energy and carnage of emotion, the exploration through old ideas. Mostly – once coming out on the other side – we look back at it with warmth and tenderness, but with a nod to knowing better now. Nonetheless, there remains something about the genre that speaks directly to the scrapes, bruises, lessons, and fun learned during one’s cocksure early days. When good, it weaves seamlessly into our memories and gives us something to take with us. Yak has now released Pursuit of Momentary Happiness, a very good rock ‘n’ roll record.
In the cyclical music carousel, rock ‘n’ roll, as a genre, has also found itself relegated to the past. Today, it seems to lack immediacy, the things that made it so special when it first damaged eardrums. Even one of the widely best received rock albums of the last two decades, The Strokes’ Is This It, deals primarily with the ennui of modern life, so much so that it announces it in the title.
Yak, made up of singer-guitarist Oliver Henry Burslem, bassist Vincent Davies and drummer Elliot Rawson, manages to take the classic sounds and emotions associated with rock ‘n’ roll, and once again turn them vital. “Grab a cake and eat it, “ announces Burslem upon entering Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ first track, ‘Bellyache’. His energy is infectious and his voice has an almost Television-esque strut to its unabashed retro callback. There is also a confidence that comes from a group who has clawed their way back to relevance after once before standing on the precipice and ending up homeless.
Formed in 2014, the band released their first LP, 2016’s Alas Salvation, to critical acclaim. They played SXSW as well as Glastonbury, and toured with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and The Last Shadow Puppets – Burslem’s voice has a striking resemblance to Alex Turner’s at times. Seemingly earmarked for success, the trio (at that point made up of Burslem, Rawson, and bassist Andy Jones) set off to record their second album at the Perth, Australia studio of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. Things didn’t work out. Jones left the band to get married and relocated to Melbourne, and the now duo returned to England penniless with no album and no place to live.
Once home though, things took a turn when Burslem was introduced to Spiritualized’s frontman Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) by Spiritualized’s John Coxton, who encouraged the duo to finish the record. They found a new bassist, Davies, and began recording the album at RAK studios with producer Marta Salogni. Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is the result of these tribulations.
“What you’ve got is what you make it,” begins ‘Fried’, the album’s second track, a proper comment on the band’s ability to push through even the most challenging times. It’s another hard rocking song that gives the initial feeling that Pursuit of Momentary Happiness might be filled with just beer dowsed celebrations of anger and joy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but as it turns out there is more to it.
The album’s title track comes next. It’s a circular carousel of a tune with flickering bulbs and painted horses with chipped teeth where Burslem croons unironically “nothing compares to you.” Even in its cliche, it lends a realness to the moment, and is worth it as it leads to the excellent turn of phrase, “It would be easier if nobody felt a thing, no love, no loss, nothing. If nobody felt in any pain, but that just ain’t livin’.”
Yak has the ability to truly enrapture an audience. They seem made up of the fuzzy lights and slippery floors of back road bars, but destined for a brighter future. ‘Words Fail Me’ has a Leonard Cohen meets Hamilton Leithauser swagger to its lamp lit stumble. It also shows a skilled understanding of horns and the power they can bring with juxtaposed with silence. Rawson’s drums, throughout the LP, crash with weight, but it’s their delicacy in the background of tracks like ‘Words Fail Me’, that show off the player’s true gifts, and it is often his dexterity that provides that added magical something to each song.
Pursuit of Momentary Happiness closes with ‘This House Has No Living Room’ and is its crowning achievement. It’s filled with ghosts and passed emotions and adds a modern touch to the album, while still remaining timeless.
Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is filled with love, depression, and is full of emotion. It is a confident and robust offering, and there is something undeniably British about the album. Maybe what we all need is a little rock ‘n’ roll?
HURRY – BUY – YAK MUSIC