Olden Yolk - Living Theater - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Olden Yolk - Living Theater

by Howard Scott Rating:8 Release Date:2019-05-17
Olden Yolk - Living Theater
Olden Yolk - Living Theater

If you are going to try and categorize the music of Olden Yolk, you are going to have your hands full. The pairing of Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer have continued the output of songs all over the spectrum on their second album, “Living Theater”. There is some folk that has been livened up a bit with a modern touch, some pop that is muted enough to not go into full-on commercial territory, and once in a while, we get a pinch here and there of electronica just to keep us all guessing. Ten songs exist on the disc, with a pair of them being instrumentals that also can confound since the other eight vocalized tunes are done so well. That isn’t to say the instrumentals, “Meadowlands” and “Angelino High” aren’t intriguing, but you do wonder if lyrics existed and were removed, or the band just wanted to highlight their musical chops.

Both members claim that they collaborate on the songwriting, but if they use the old Lennon-McCartney formula of “I sing lead on what I wrote”, I can hear fairly distinct differences between the two. Butler seems to lean more toward the folky side of things, while Shaffer’s tunes are more pop-rock oriented. Both are good at what they do, and I’m sure there is some degree of one helping out the other, but there are aural differences. 

That isn’t to say one is better than the other. Shaffer sings lead on four tunes, and “Distant Episode” is her strongest anthem. On their first recording, the pair brought in a varied cast of musicians to help out, and that pattern continues on the sophomore disc. On “Distant”, Frank Maston does a nice job adding a flute to the mix, while Eliza Bagg on strings and Ben Livingston playing a stand-up bass give the short song a different flavor. 

“Blue Paradigm” is one of the more pop-infused cuts that Shaffer handles, and “Castor and Pollux” and “Every Ark” demonstrate her ability to use her beautiful mid-level voice to full advantage.

Meanwhile, Butler uses choral instrumentation on opener “240 D”.  Some interesting folk-style banging kicks off “Grand Palais” which makes full use of both vocalists perfectly mixed ranges to create heavenly sounds mixed with fine guitar work by Butler. 

Another Butler carried tune, “Violent Days” sounds like the title would have you believe. It is dark, dreamy and a complete outlier from the rest of the album. The electronics get fully soaked in and create an atmosphere of slightly optimistic doom. I didn’t see this one coming while taking in the balance of the record. The composition is highlighted by a beautiful saxophone performance by Eli Aleinikoff to further amplify the unique status of “Violent Days”. Shaffer’s backing oohs and aaahs also are perfectly placed. 

The strongest of the Butler tunes is “Cotton and Cane”, which was written as a conversation between him and his father, who unfortunately passed about the same time the song was being created. It starts with an acoustic feel but then morphs into a more rock uptempo song. The chorus of “When The Debts Come” is not only something anyone can relate to but the perfect anchor of a lyrical tour-de-force. Not surprisingly, this cut was offered as the first single from “Living Theater” and also the first video.

The supporting cast for the album is both varied and impressive. Besides the players mentioned previously, Booker Stardrum anchored the percussion in a noticeable, but not an overwhelming way, while Peter Wagner used his talents on piano, synths, and various electronics to enhance the finished product. Vishal Nayek also handles various electronic duties while also helping out with the overall recording process in New York. 

The only real holdover from the first album is Jarvis Taveniere, who not only played bass on some cuts but produced and recorded the Los Angeles portion of the finished product. 

“Living Theater” is an incremental step up the ladder from the self-titled first album, but that isn’t to say either was a disappointment. Quite the contrary. Both albums are finely composed works with a wealth of talent oozing from the grooves. The ability to do so many different styles and genres of music is surely aided by bringing in different support artists with each undertaking, but the pillars of the band’s foundation, Butler and Shaffer, form the sun around which all the other musicians rotate. That sun puts forth a welcoming glow for anyone to bask in.

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