For this review, I desperately wanted to find something new that I would love, rather than taking another walk down memory lane to revisit an old favorite, or finding something new that I was only lukewarm about. Unfortunately, given the cyclical nature of popular music, most of the things I like are deeply out of fashion at the moment. So I put a request out to my facebook friends (many of whom have more free time to discover new music than I do) for something that would land in my wheelhouse, a fairly narrow corridor that runs from melodic garage and punk, edges into shoegaze and psychedelia but only the more sprightly regions, and finishes up on the edgier fringes of power pop.
This brought me to Yak’s debut album Alas Salvation, which came out close to a year ago, but it’s new to me. The album opens with “Victorious (National Anthem),” bringing guitars as dirty and fuzzy as that pink bear from Breaking Bad. The next song, “Hungry Heart” as well as later tracks “Roll Another” and the title track, feel like filler – lazy, psychedelic noodling that probably should have been B-sides. But it’s a debut album and they’re still finding their feet, so I’ll cut them some slack.
“Use Somebody” picks the pace back up, with an into that sounds for all the world like a Sex Pistols song, but by the chorus veers off and gets Iggy with it. It all wraps up within two and a half minutes, which is pretty much the perfect length for a song to be when you’re talking about garage music.
Starting with “Harbour the Feeling,” Alas Salvation finishes stronger than it started. “Harbour” was this album’s lone single and was a good choice for that honor. Quite a bit more polished than the rest of the album, it still provides plenty of fuzz, angst and urgency. If you listen to one Yak song, make it this one – it gives a good representation of Yak does, putting forth their best possible face.
“Smile” brings a delightful dose of moody, pulpy gothabilly reminiscent of the Cramps, or slightly more recently, the Horrors’ first album. “DooWah” sounds a bit like a messier Strokes, and that’s all I ever really wanted. On this track as with most of the album, the lyrics are all a bit mumbly and distorted and therefore not necessarily worth the effort of too much analysis. But the vocals get the job done.
“Please Don’t Wait For Me” closes out the album with a relatively gentle comedown from the angsty energy of the rest of the album. It drifts along pleasantly, all acoustic strumming and languid crooning, reminding me a bit of a mellow Libertines meander or maybe one of the more wistful Replacements numbers, with a little bit of Walkmen sprinkled over the top.
It breaks my heart a little when I hear a new young band that sounds like the fucking Eagles (I’m looking at you, Whitney). Yak are a young band making the kind of music young people should make – energetic, messy, and full of great big piles of anger and joyfulness at the same time. That’s what being a young person should be all about. Does it make sound like an old person, all this talk about “young people?” If it does, so be it. But if young people keep making proper young people music, I’m going to keep listening to it. I will not go gentle into that good night where people my age decide that Coldplay is good enough for them.
I don’t want to hate 99% of the new music I hear, but I can’t help it. Maybe I’ve over-refined my musical taste to such a degree that there’s very little that will satisfy it any more. It’s been suggested to me that I simply try harder to like more music outside my preferred genres as if I could just flip a switch and crap music would stop sounding terrible to me. I’ve been given similar suggestions regarding a belief in God, and much like how I feel about music, it seems to me that forcing or faking it constitutes a greater sin than a lack of belief in the first place.
I’m sure more music that scratches my particular itch will cycle back into favor eventually, and for now Yak carries the torch well enough. Alas, I didn’t love this album as much as I’d hoped. But I am definitely more than lukewarm about it and I’m excited to see where they go from here. And as I often argued with my mom, a B+ is a perfectly respectable grade.
Tagging the birthday boy, Shawn.