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Yak - Pursuit of Momentary Happiness Music Album Reviews

On their second album, this unruly British trio make the rare garage rock-informed record that aims for the upper reaches of Royal Albert Hall.

There are bands who spend their entire careers hustling to make the right connections... and then there’s Yak. Though they’ve been a group for barely half a decade, the British trio have already amassed a coterie of mentors, collaborators, and famous fans strong enough to fill the headlining ranks of an entire edition of Desert Daze. Their 2015 EP, No, was released through Jack White’s Third Man Records; their 2016 full-length debut, Alas Salvation, was recorded with Pulp’s Steve Mackey and earned tour invites from the Last Shadow Puppets, the side band of Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner. For their second Third Man release, the new Pursuit of Momentary Happiness, Yak singer and guitarist Oli Burslem hooked up with his pal Jay Watson (of Tame Impala and Pond) in Perth to record at Kevin Parker’s own studio. That plan fell apart, however, when they spent more time drinking than working; still, a cameo from Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce isn’t a bad consolation cosign.

When you hear Pursuit of Momentary Happiness, you’ll understand why some of the most notable names in alt-rock are drawn into Burslem’s orbit: They recognize a true kindred eccentric. But despite his boldface buddies, Burslem found himself broke and living in his van between his attempt to write the album during a month-long sojourn in Japan, his fruitless trek to Australia, the actual sessions in London’s RAK Studios, and a mixing stint in New York. So while these songs sport the scuzz and lava-lamp patina of an obscure 1970s psych record salvaged from the dollar bin, Pursuit of Momentary Happiness ultimately maps the soul-crushing struggle to survive in the here and now. Yak match raucous, restless energy with uncommon gravitas, making this the rare garage rock-informed record that aims for the upper reaches of Royal Albert Hall.

Burslem doesn’t so much sing these songs as inhabit them, making you feel—emotionally and physically—exactly what he’s feeling. Amid a flurry of prog flutes, “Bellyache” marches in on a tough wah-wah groove reminiscent of John Lennon at his rawest, with the singer taunting some greedy fat cats reeling from their own gluttony. “White Male Carnivore” is even less subtle. Unleashing a torrent of verbal barbs like a guitar-charged Sleaford Mods, Burslem presents a savage caricature of thin-skinned toxic masculinity, with a blitzkrieged quote of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” providing the final unflattering brushstroke.

Even when Pursuit of Momentary Happiness threatens to veer toward rote early-2000s garage revivalism, Burslem’s diseased drawl adds a peculiar, unnerving edge. “Blinded by the Lies” seems like a fish-in-a-barrel attack on desperate fame-seekers until Burslem starts screaming “Kick ’em in the face!” This is the sadistic glee of someone who clearly isn’t satisfied with mere intra-song shaming.

While Pursuit of Momentary Happiness draws from a bottomless well of piss and vinegar, it counterbalances those urges with irreverence and grace. Burslem’s charms are most amplified when the band simmers down for his introspective turns, giving him the space to sashay through the brass-pumped doo-wop of “Words Fail Me” and the narcotic gospel of “This House Has No Living Room” as if he were starring in a glam-rock musical about his own life.

The latter song achieves liftoff thanks to Pierce’s slide-guitar sweeps and a climactic guest vocal routed through his familiar “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” effects. But it’s the title track that hews closest to Spiritualized’s signature prescription of self-care via hypnotic psychedelia. “I just wanna... feel good,” Burslem sings, boiling down the album’s agitated essence into a single plea. The soothing space-rock surge that accompanies those words suggests that his pursuit of happiness has been fulfilled, if only for a moment.

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