Yak’s 2016 debut LP Alas Salvation had a deranged energy that was always going to be hard to recapture, but their 2019 follow-up Pursuit of Momentary Happiness comes pretty darn close. A lot happened since the release of their first album—one of the most vigorous rock debuts in a long time. Frontman Oli Burslem’s hopes to write and record their new album didn’t go to plan. Their previous bassist Andy Jones departed the band, and plans to write in Japan and rehearse in Australia with Tame Impala’s Jay Watson didn’t yield the desired material.
Burslem eventually returned to the U.K., homeless, with no money and no album. After 18 months worth of failed album plans, Burslem and drummer Elliot Rawson were still determined to make a new record, so they recruited new bassist Vinny Davies and were later introduced to Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce, who encouraged them to keep on it. They eventually signed new deals with Third Man Records and Virgin EMI, and Pierce actually contributed to the record, lending slide guitar and vocals to the final track, “This House Has No Living Room.”
With the album’s three singles—“Bellyache,” “White Male Carnivore” and “Fried”—it appeared that the trio’s energy had been rekindled and perhaps, even bested with the addition of imposing horns and grand piano. Burslem’s raw vocal spitting, their devilish guitars, booming drums and spasmodic energy all receive a generous boost from the rousing brass, which expands their capacity for majesty. In comparison to Alas Salvation, the forceful punk moments here are even more forceful and the sad, downtempo doo-wop moments are sadder.
While Pursuit of Momentary Happiness might not be as satisfying of an overall listening experience as Alas Salvation, it’s a more intense and varied tracklist. Tracks like “Bellyache” and “Fried,” see Burslem fighting animalistic urges with every ounce of energy he can muster. It’s the kind of paranoid, blowtorched sound with a wide eyed-conviction that puts them somewhere on the border of unrelenting proto-punk and snarling Stones-y rock. On “Encore,” Burslem sings, “With no conviction / Everything will ultimately / Roll back on itself,” and lucky for him, the band possesses such believable conviction.
Some might be put off by their frequent use of fuzzy, overdriven guitars, but the resulting whooshing effect adds another interesting dimension to their mammoth sound. The whooshing sonics also compliment their anxious lyrics—it’s as if the guitars are just as bent out of shape as Burslem’s current mental state.
The album’s variance in tempo might keep listeners on their toes, but the slower numbers on the second half of the record aren’t as strong as the ones on the opening half. “Pursuit of Momentary Happiness” and “Words Fail Me” are charming listens and visceral in their vulnerability, but others like “Encore” and “This House Has No Living Room” just don’t have the same staying power. What’s most surprising is that the album’s self-deprecating lyrical introspectiveness reaches the same level of emotional intensity as their bursts of scorching rock and roll. Pursuit of Momentary Happiness isn’t as consistent as its predecessor, but its moments of punk gusto find Yak at their mightiest peak.