Through each song of their second album, Olden Yolk touch on a delicate psychedelia. It’s not an out-and-out paisley affair, and nor is anything forced to fit with a borrowed tone. But Living Theatre is an album that undulates between clarity, mist, purpose and tangent. And for all those reasons it’s a thing of significant achievement.
Songwriters Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer seem driven by the extension of impulse. What is fleeting they elongate, and what is expansive they aim toward a center. This is what we mean by psychedelic. The organic version of time-passing is explored. We are disinterested in clocks and hard lines.
Structures do play a significant role in these songs. Carefully sculptured scenarios are given shape from moods, memory and ambition. Opening track ‘240D’ is driven by percussive piano, firmly strummed guitar, and the kind of crisply-plucked bass that draws from the mid-sixties sugar pop. These devices are measured out elsewhere too – the clean lines of classic-sounding songs.
If elements of old-school production affect the timbre of the track, production and lyrical drive are modern. There’s a sharpness to the way things are captured, ‘You can’t deny what’s in your head / and your pleasant thoughts can’t wait for dead.’ – is the kind of line that’s surprisingly barbed, by comparison to the easier, breezier progressions that make dancing, or at least swaying, undeniable. Again, the vibrations between the difficult now, and the romanticized ‘then’ are noted – and make for a very modern collection.
The theme of Living Theatre is not explicitly laid out, or spoon fed to the audience. Instead, as these songs unfold in sequence there is the sense that each is a vignette, exploring the slight dislocation between what is real and what is performed. What is connected and what is disconnected. We watch ourselves often, and in this mindful kind of spiritual space we also lose a little of something. The ineffable nature of ‘it all’ would be too grand a target, so instead Olden Yolk tend toward the ineffable nature of our own personal roles and responsibilities.
‘Castor and Pollox’ is a highpoint. All best aspects of the album are on display here. “Your close, and still far-sighted” sings Shaffer in one of her best vocal deliveries. Production gives space to everything. And a line like this is evidence to the shifting field of vision. The inter-personal assessment is exquisite, and the delivery is astute. We change our mind about what matters most.
Understated, perfectly formed, and entirely refreshing. With Living Theatre Olden Yolk have elevated their trajectory.
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HURRY – BUY – OLDEN YOLK MUSIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN ANDREWS