Nothing is extraneous unless it’s meant to be extraneous.
No one has described Yak’s sound better than their fronman Oli Burslem. In an interview for The Quietus he said, “I’d like to do something more considered musically. But not like that singer-songwriter stuff where they go on, ‘Oh, you need to listen to me, you need to invest your time in me.’ I hate that. We’re more like, ‘Aaaargh!’”
With the release of Alas Salvation Yak’s abovementioned signature frenetic energy can be experienced without seeing a show—and without the threat of instruments being beamed at your head. The London-based trio have been gaining attention since 2014 when they started opening for psych-rock inclined compatriots like Peace and Palma Violets and yes, many an instrument was weaponized. As they began to headline free shows in bars and small venues, hype around the high energy spectacle that is a Yak gig snowballed into something big enough to crush them. Yak’s first two EPs were full of promising material, but it was impossible to tell if the sputtering chaos of their live experience could hold up over a 13 track record. Well, folks, it can and it does.
Alas Salvation opens with the wailing “Victorious (National Anthem).” Burlsem aggressively sing-talks over choppy cymbals that seem to be trying to race him to the end of the song. Yak immediately demands your attention and holds it throughout the rest of the album’s runtime. The loud jams like “Hungry Heart” and “Use Somebody” employ repetitive lyrics and fast tempos to keep the adrenaline pumping. More laid back songs like “Roll Another” and “Doo Wah” offer respite from the mania by being peppered throughout the album. While the slower numbers feel reflective in tone, the lyrics themselves are forgettable and act only as a vehicle to carry Burslem’s vocals over the music. Lines like, “How long must this carry on?” can’t quite carry their own weight because in those moments you’re not listening to the lyrics anyway. You’re too busy convulsing along with the truly infectious rhythms to bother trying to decode any underlying meaning.
This highly anticipated debut is just plain fun. It’s the kind of upbeat that feels good to listen to no matter what kind of mood you’re in. It fuels anger, then quells it. Adds to your happiness by providing a soundtrack to it. Each listen sounds new as well as the songs reveal elements that went unnoticed initially. In a few of the tracks a keyboard appears and exits abruptly as if they had one just lying around in the studio and thought, “Why not?” While the fundamental sensation is that of a hectic band’s energy being channeled into a studio album, these songs still manage to be considered more than merely frenetic. Even with the sometimes-wonky keyboard interjections, everything builds to a cohesive sound and tone. Nothing is extraneous unless it’s meant to be extraneous.
The true standout on Alas Salvation is “Harbour the Feeling,” Yak’s most recent single. Burslem sings, “There is no God” while Elliot Rawson bangs out a vicious drum beat—and somehow the song still manages to be the catchiest track on the album. There’s a more polished feel to this tune than the rest of the album, something that is able to reach beyond their specific corner of indie rock-sphere to a wider audience without losing the essence of the band. It shows the Yak’s potential as they become known for more than just their shows in the greater musical landscape.
Alas Salvation delivers on the hype in a way that most bands can’t handle their first go around. Yak have managed to progress beyond their early EPs while maintaining that special something that makes them so exciting. That “Aaaargh”-factor if you will.