It’s a bit tough to know what to say about Yonaka at this stage, but that can ultimately be perceived as a good thing. While they may have been given a rather significant boost forward recently, it feels as though their come-up has been through pretty traditional, grassroots means, picking up strength from a pair of extremely solid EPs last year, and coming out with one legitimate potential world-beater in Fired Up to establish just how hard they’re swinging for the fences. Furthermore, they’ve been wise enough to break out of the fickle indie hype cycle in favour of the preferential environment fostered by mainstream rock, a scene that seems like a far more natural fit for their pop-slanting brand of Britrock. On the whole, it’s hard to complain about where Yonaka are right now; they’ve barely put a foot wrong up to now, and it’s led to a debut album arriving with a fair bit of anticipation behind it and the allusions of something far bigger to come if the band can deliver.
That generally seems to be predicted endpoint if Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow is anything to go by as well, though it feels as though that stems from Yonaka’s increased savviness when it comes to where they’re going that’s definitely increased between last year’s EPs and now. It seems to be the only logical reason that both Creature and Fired Up have returned here; they were each the huge, radio-ready highlights of their respective EPs, and when placed in the context of an entire album that tries to achieve the same effect with every song, they’re a natural fit. But at the same time, there’s a fair amount on Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow that feels at the mercy of the radio rather than driven by Yonaka’s own creative impulses, and when the only significant buoying factor is the glossy alt-pop sheen that ensures their colossal size is kept a constant, it’s not quite the hard-hitting breakthrough that always seemed like a possibility. Sure, there’s enough about Yonaka that easily lifts them above the faceless crop of indie chancers gunning for the same goal, but Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow also shines an equally glaring spotlight on their limitations.
For starters, it’s not up for debate whether or not Yonaka know their way around a hook, especially when Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow does its absolute damnedest to serve as a fast-track to the huge venues this band are clearly eyeing up. Fired Up still feels like the most obvious candidate for a pop crossover in the making, picking up the roiling grooves and stadium-sized grandeur that would feel right at home at those peaks, but in general, Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow is reliably consistent when it comes to knocking out tracks of that size. The chunky, stormy indie-pop stomp of opener Bad Company establishes that fact from the off, and when it’s bolstered by tracks like Rockstar which sounds like it was designed to soundtrack BBC festival coverage until the end of time, or the unashamed lighters-aloft scale of the title track, it’s easy to picture Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow opening the floodgates in terms of getting Yonaka on those huge stages, something which feels like it was designed as the clearest end goal.
Then again, any band worth their salt can write big hooks; it takes one with real staying power to bring something else on top of that, and the expanded context of a full album shows how lacking Yonaka really are. Quite a significant amount has actually been lost between their EPs and now, especially with such a wholehearted embrace of alt-pop tones that drowns out a thicker guitar presence, and generally just feels like padding to guarantee a sense of swell even when there’s not much there. In terms of production, the haze that masks everything and puts all pressure on the drums for driving progression feels totally unnecessary; Punch Bag could let more than shards of distortion poke through, but it still has a sense of crunch to it, more than can be said for audio cotton wool that is Guilty (For Your Love) that sees swathes of backing vocals as a suitable substitute for any instrumental definition. It’s plain to see what Yonaka are doing by inflating their own size to the degree that they do, but when that’s at the expense of genuine rock bombast that could lead to a similar effect, if not a better one, it makes the whole thing seem incredibly toothless. At least Theresa Jarvis is still a powerhouse vocalist that arguably pulls this album back from the edge on more than a few occasions (she’s probably the reason that Fired Up is as excellent as it is), but when she’s effectively the single lynchpin factor preventing everything else from feeling totally nonexistent or spiralling off the rails completely, it’s an amount of pressure that means this album never feels at a level of equilibrium that’s healthy for it. Indeed, there’s a similar level of slack in the writing, playing to broad concepts of relationships and mental health to solidify Yonaka’s big, populist ambitions, but in yet another way that’s taking creative half-measures and leaving it up to Jarvis’ vocal performance to hold it all together.
And that doesn’t feel beneficial to anyone – not to the band who are relying on one aspect of their sound to put in comparable work to everything else and still largely not being able to succeed, and not to the listener who’s presented with an album that had so much potential that doesn’t feel even close to being lived up to. It’s what’s the most frustrating thing about Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow at the end of the day; it’s not that Yonaka are going in a poppier direction, as there’s still plenty that they’re capable of doing with that, but it doesn’t play to their strengths, and feels like a meticulously-crafted ticket to the big leagues above any real product of intent. Knowing how these sorts of things tend to go, it’s probably going to get them exactly where they want to be, but it’s hard to escape the fact that Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow could be so much better than it is, mostly because Yonaka were exactly that not even a year ago.
For fans of: Basement, Anteros, Blossoms
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’ by Yonaka is out now on Asylum Records.