Olden Yolk 4

The British folk rock movement was always kind of nonsense. The Stones had copied American blues and, at any rate, at least played Chuck Berry’s riffs to millions of people who would have never heard them. But acts like Donovan, Fairport Convention and Pentangle were really just repackaging Bob Dylan to his audience disaffected by their hero’s turn to electronic string. The guise of coating their precociousness to the realm of whatever poets most freshman English majors tend to ignore was tenuous at best. It follows that the biggest influence of this set was the self-seriousness of their attire: straightened and buttoned-up. A half decade ago, a version of this was in fashion again and Amish fashion models Mumford & Sons released three albums and nobly hit the top of the US Alt. chart three times. A more recent band getting comparisons to the serious strings of medieval fiction are a more recent band: New York’s Olden Yolk, whose very fine self-titled debut was released by Trouble In Mind last week.

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Olden Yolk

Shane Butler, at the record release show, is dressed very politely – his hair dangling like somebody your parents would be happy to see you go to prom with. Long-time archivists of the east coast guitar scene will recognize Butler’s face and airy vocals from his years in Quilt, a Boston band who most recently released 2016’s Plaza on Mexican Summer. But Olden Yolk, his collaboration with Caity Shaffer, feels like something else entirely. The songs are breezy and feel like anthems found on windy streets. “Cut to the Quick,” second on their setlist and on the record, has all the wiry intelligence of a Sirius XMU hit, hummable for long car rides in the Midwest. There is a mobility to these songs that suggests Butler’s interest in using the project for mass communication. When the set winds down, after a cover of the Meat Puppets’ “Plateau” (most remembered for being covered by Nirvana, another stab at the masses), the record’s closer reveals jagged guitar solos that sound like they were found in San Francisco in ’66, not Maryhill, Scotland.

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Olden Yolk

But the genre that Olden Yolk most seem to signify, from their murmured vocals to the Lockett Pundt guitar riffs, is the post-rock breakdowns of the slowcore scene, a moment of indie music signified by bands like Low, Duster and the Red House Painters (Mark Kozelek’s old band). Where hardcore broke off into the earliest permutations of emo and grunge was stilling gunning for the radio, slowcore was defiantly chill, songs that stood still and pounded piercing lyricism over the dangerous threats of monotony. Butler’s lyricism is a similar style of acute language applied to claustrophobic songs; as if frustrated with some tradition, Butler and Shaffer find places that feel suddenly unoccupied.  The best moments on Olden Yolk have Shaffer blazing strangely on a keyboard and finding a sound in between droning stabs at the night and basic folk melodies, a tension that translate into a powerful urgency tying together parts.

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Olden Yolk

Olden Yolk is out now on Trouble In Mind.