14 May 2016

Yak / Alas Salvation (album review)

Make no mistake, Yak are something special. Yak are something really fucking special, and this album you're about to read a review of is the 2010s' Raw Power. And with its release they've cemented something I've suspected for quite a while; the London power trio are absolute master provocateurs of noise, fuzz and energy, and have made the whole notion of guitar music more exciting in the year 2016 than you'd have rationally thought possible. The record in question, Alas Salvation, is a debut that comes out about 15 months after we first rolled our beady eyes in the direction of Yak, after the release of their debut single, and well, since then our eyes haven't really looked anywhere since. It's a 40 minute journey through the noisiest, most chaotic of rabbit holes, and the band have so much charisma that at every corner you're greeted with caricaturish delivery that throws you, as the listener, all over the place.

Where to start with this raucous masterpiece? Well, the start maybe; the ruthless sonic manifesto that first blows the bloody doors right off the operation; the opener Victorious (National Anthem). The first noises you hear on this album are squeals of eerily atmospheric feedback, before emerging triumphantly through the catharsis comes this pulse-racing, barn-storming opening guitar assault that slashes straight through the sonic field in  a kinda no-holds barred psychobilly thrash way. It's completely batshit, and exciting, and dangerous sounding, like The Gun Club cranked up from their regular Chevy Camaro pace into Millenium Falcon lightspeed by means of frontman Oli Burslem's psychotically barked vocals and his guitar's tortured screams of feedback at the end of every line. Victorious is a full on sonic assault, and through it's 117 second duration you're left no room to take a breath.

But on it's ending do Yak leave you room for a breath? Not on Burslem's watch. You're thrown straight back into the abyss of invasive guitar music, as the band's pummelling debut single Hungry Heart comes straight at you, vying for your jugular with that thunderous bass riff and those narcotic feedback wails. And well, following that is Use Somebody, another similarly intense song with a real snotty-nosed British punk feel, but keeps up the intense lack of breathing space with Burslem's calls of "use somebody! use somebody!" The first three songs of this record throw you right in the oh-so-very deep end, and really searching for your next breath. At this point maybe you'd expect it to a kinda one dimensional LP that is permanently on the attack, but well, that's not quite the case.

The moments of intense Crampsian rock 'n' roll are indispersed with the occasional mellow 'un, the occasional psychotropic deep breath, and the occasional ambiential feedback ocean that sprawls on for so long that you have a moment to relax. This album has so much character all the way through; Oli Burslem puts across so many different personas, and the music captures so many different kinds of chaotic feelings. On the creamy, dreamy FLips-style mid-album breather Roll Another, his vocals are subdued, and it sounds like he's recovering from the white knuckle ride of the first three songs himself, whilst Smile sees him croon his way through what is a Nick Cave-on-a-murder-rampage of a song in a way that is just as perfect at building up character as Cave himself. "CUT IT OUT! STICK IT IN! CUT IT OUT! TAKE A PICTURE!" he yells, in a ridiculously disjointed way that maybe Mark E Smith would have (that's my only frame of reference, it doesn't sound like The Fall), before Yak commence with their fuzz-feedback-thrash of a song; Burslem's delivery has so much character that this record is just such a compelling, active listen all the way through. The man is an ex-used furniture salesman turned Byronic rock 'n' roll lizard, and all the way through he leaves his mark on this album in a way that is such a breath of fresh air from so much of the faceless by numbers indie that populates the pages of a lotta music magazines in the year 2016.

But it's not just the way that Burslem delivers his lyrics, or changes up his vocal style that makes this album an especially charismatic twenty first century classic. Unlike an unmistakably large amount of modern guitar music albums (be they indie, alternative, rock, whatever you wanna classify them), the production isn't especially clean and the guitars sound live, and bloody dangerous too. The way that the guitar part in Harbour The Feeling continually wails and screams for dominance and the way that they battle the rampant bass in Hungry Heart are just so reminiscent of Iggy & The Stooges for me, in the way that they're imperfect in a way that sounds so brash, so raucous, and so exciting. On Smile, the guitar's fought tooth and nail by Burslem to make this beastly hard rocking screech, and on the title track this screechy riff kicks in that just physically arrests you in  a way that very few songs can even begin to hint at having the power to do. The axework here makes this an album that just sounds dangerous, and well, when was the last time a fairly straightforward guitar record (straightforward in that it's mainly made up of guitar-bass-drum pop-structured tracks, more than anything) made you feel on edge. 43 years after Iggy Pop growled "gimme danger, little stranger", one of the most lethal rock 'n' roll artworks has been unleashed unto the world.

This album doesn't quite fit into one genre, at all; is it a rock record? A noise record? A record that falls into the more interesting side of the 'indie' label? Is it a psych record? Who the fuck knows?! That's really not important. What you need to know is this record is insane, the masterwork of some mad scientists, an album that's coming straight for your jugular. It's a turbo-charged masterpiece that, from the initial revs of opener Victorious to the celestial space-folk wheezes of closer Please Don't Wait For Me, this album is all over the place in the most absolutely batshit way imaginable. It's brilliant. It's flawless. It's exciting. And if you ever meet any stuckist Andy Burnham-type balding old men that don't think guitar music has been exciting since What's The Story, this album is an example of pulsating, psychotic rock 'n' roll at it's absolute finest. I said it at the start, and I'll say it now; this album is the 2010s' Raw Power.


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Words: Calum Cashin