Yak – Alas Salvation

Rightfully titled Yak, this three-piece are a little more than your average oxen. Particularly noted for their high tempo, shattering live performances, Yak are now in a position to drop their debut, self-released album Alas Salvation. An album that promises saviour but possesses more sins within the lurid rock’n’roll it puts forth. The album promises all the raw energy that many fantastic live bands lose on their debut LP, it promises the chaos but invariably walks the tightline of keeping it organised. To label them as a noise-rock band is not so far from the truth, but there’s a little more grace to their sound than that. The bridge they seem to have built is that between the live and recorded, anarchic onstage and suitably so on record too it appears.

On a whole, the album borrows more from the American world of rock’n’roll, blues and noise than it does the UK. Creepings of Jack White-styled guitar bleeds into the title track, leaving it not a far cry from the likes of ‘Stop Breaking Down’ from Jack’s early stuff with Meg. The overly-distorted guitar squawk cuts under frontman, Oliver Burslem's frantic vocals. The production is outstanding as riddles of guitars hammer home the message that Yak so desperately put together on a live stage. This bleeds into the likes of ‘Smile’ which put Burslem’s vocals through a mystified, Nick Cave lens, generating a haunting croon that perches upon methodic drums. The songs throughout Alas Salvation are explosive, Yak really pack their punch and find they earn their stripes best when they put matches near fuses. ‘Smile’ is testament to this, as Burselm and his cohorts drag you through haunting passages of verses, interjected with jarring guitar and rhythm, they build and morph into an entirely different beast completely by the climax.

The Jesus and Mary Chain-styled atmospherics lay throughout the two interludes on the album, as guitars hum and buzz through hypnotic slurs and melodic rhythms. Yak show a tendency to fall into the relentless energy whilst sharing bearings that fall away from the blues and instead show the energy of Mark E Smith with a gob rammed with uppers. It is pure bruising post-punk, see ‘Hungry Heart’ – “This hungry heart / Is beating again / This hungry heart / Never ever knows when.” It is seldom heard of within the DIY garage rock’n’roll world to hear a band that can transpose their live sound so perfectly into a recorded LP format. Yak seem to possess this essential skill. Outlines of the likes of Death From Above 1979 plague the early part of the album, its raucous punk-fuelled rock’n’roll that beats throughout ‘Use Somebody’ is gut-crushing. The synchronisation between rhythm and vocals gives a bite to Burslem’s snarl, it puts the whiskey in the throat of the old bloke at the bar, it puts hairs on a 14-year-old’s chest. Restrained horn breaks throughout the latter part of the song find roots in the experimental sounds of The Men, finding that essential melody within the onslaught of noise.

Yak find roots across the spectrum of post-punk however, ‘Curtain Twitcher’ and the album opener, ‘Victorious (National Anthem)’ pose comparisons to the likes of Girl Band. The songs are more based around the velocity of Burslem’s lyrical attributes. Riveting, seductive lyrics tug on the heart strings as sounds are built around 100mph musical spurs that kick like a sleep twitch. Yak leap around like a rodeo bull, remorseless and unmerciful, showing as much sympathy as the muzzle of a cold blooded killer’s gun.

What makes Alas Salvation such a formidable debut is its variance too. Yak have clearly taken their time as a group putting together the pieces of this album. Throughout the early parts, they have built guitar sounds on agility, volume and squeals, however they also find their roots in the delicacy. The likes of ‘Doo Wah’ rest upon a pedestal previously laid out by the likes of Cage the Elephant circa ‘Cigarette Daydreams’. Here the sound rests upon the rhythm of Andy Jones and Elliot Rawson. Songs pummel along with velocity still but there’s an unnerving sense of something being stripped back. They follow a much more general Pixies-styled song structure, ones that play with the loud-quiet-loud mentality, similarly resting upon a more thoughtful and reserved Pavement style. The tightness within the rhythm is ultimately what gives Burslem free-reign with his raucous guitar salvos and lyrical quips.

It’s interesting how much this album finds roots in the punk aspect of early 00s bands. They have taken the essential elements that made bands like The Cribs and The Vines so exciting at one point. ‘Roll Another’ presents lethargy within the chaos, it’s the downtime between the riffs as it curls around loose and jaded guitar lines. It’s the type that gives potential to grab mates around the shoulders, chugging back beer as you declare what a marvellous night the whole thing was. Ramshackle in its effort, it’s the rhythm that ties behind Burslem that gives him freedom to experiment on the surface. As with their No EP, Steve Mackey from Pulp is the man in charge of production and it’s ultimately him who has acted as the fourth member within their debut.

As the psychedelic swirls ‘Please Don’t Wait For Me’ embed towards the back end of the album, Yak open themselves from a different angle, giving Alas Salvation another texture, tasted on the promise of Syd Barrett. This album in general however is riddled with texture; the trio really have a superb knack for finding the melody within the chaotic. They blend sounds drawn from the punk field, contemporaries such as Iceage and The Men come into meeting with blues rock, the post-punk of The Fall and Suicide all touchingly ended with the squeal of fuzz. It’s the passion that lies below though; the work of Mackey has managed to draw this passion from the sweat and grime of basements and transpose it, miraculously onto record. Its rawness and energy is what allows for this album to be great. Much in the fashion of The Libertines’ Up The Bracket, it’s the DIY ethos that gives it the overarching finish. This may just be the best British debut for quite sometime. Yak are a reason for contemporary music to be exciting again.
Tom Churchill

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