The crew at Niche Appeal has an ear firmly planted to the ground of music’s past, but to many of us (myself included), certain new bands roll out a rainbow of amorphous Nostalgia Sounds that take us to a place that’s definitely not the present and certainly isn’t the future, and we’re left just floating around in a musical memory that’s not entirely our own. Well, who doesn’t like to be whisked away to anywhere other than the Right Now of it all? Let’s GTFO with some new-old tunes!
The thing is, there are two routes to follow: some bands treat nostalgia as a palette; they paint their entire work in its reliable shades. The Olden Yolk project, from Quilt’s Shane Butler and singer/multi-instrumentalist Caity Shaffer, exemplifies that type as they coat their album in the smooth mellows of something reminiscent of the late ’60s folk-rock scene. However, other bands treat nostalgia like patches to be sewn on a pair of pants that are almost entirely made of holes. Post Animal’s first official full length stitches together dozens of historic sounds to make a rollicking good time out of any musical fabric they could get their hands on.
First, look at these two bands, and you’ll probably be able to make your choice from there:
Olden Yolk, dreaming of yesteryear
Post Animal: We have ironic mustaches and vintage camera filters!
With a name that invokes the gray-yellow colors of their sound, this self-titled debut is a complete, front-to-back vibe machine. From the start, “Verdant” arrives with a low-key synth wash, trancey guitar, and a casual walking bass line that hasn’t seen the light of day since the early ’70s. The vocals, from Butler and Shaffer, breeze out like a sigh, or the whispers of a ghost. “Spare the noise,” they say, in what could be an album mission statement. Beyond the occasional buzzing guitars, this is a gentle ride.
“Verdant” blends perfectly into the up-tempo jangles and driving percussion of “Cut to the Quick”, about as close to a single as this collection could ask for. “Did you ever find the sound? Did you ever feel the same?”, Butler asks. They *did* find the sound, and, in its own special way, it does feel the same. This song makes me want to dance my own melancholy movements through the Stonehenge’d ruins of some fallen city. Next up: the flawless orchestral mumbles of “Gamblers on a Dime” followed by Shaffer’s first lead vocal on “Vital Sign”, where she proves herself the perfect complimentary sigh-vocalist to Butler. Their voices are so simpatico that it’s hard to even tell the singer’s gender has changed.
That’s not to say everything fits perfectly into their nostalgia scheme. “Common Ground” has the gall to feature a little sneak of modern synth around the 1:20 mark where a flute might have noodled along in the earlier decades. “Hen’s Teeth” begins with a bit of plucky American Appalachian guitar, but then those vocals float in like an English fog and the vibe has returned. “Scarce as hen’s teeth, they say.” Yup, “they” did say that, as recently as the 1860s… Mmmm, sweet nostalgia of a phrase, just about 100 years older than the band’s target sound.
They take a chance with “Esprit de Corps”, given its rockin’ intro that segues into a talkin’ intro. It could almost be an early REM track; however, the gentleness of the sung vocals in the chorus again reins it back into that unknown and mystical time that Olden Yolk thrive in. When Shaffer’s second song, “After Us”, starts up next, you can practically feel the mists of Avalon rolling in.
All of this leads up to the greatest challenge to the album’s coherence: the lyrical modern-day relevance of its epic finale “Takes One To Know One”. “The fallen face of Ellis Island, was she truant or behind? What did you see back then? Was she divine?” The song seems to catalog, in a general way, the rough current state of America for refugees, even riffing on the ‘see something, say something’ rules of the subway systems with “And if you see something / in the seeded plastic smile / You better say something, you haven’t seen it in a while.” It culminates with the seemingly uplifting chorus of “Have faith in dark days / They will turn around”, but the shuffling, paranoid drums and the buzz saw solos paint a different picture. It’s a downer at the end of this trip, but a catchy downer. And it manages to elevate the nostalgia into significance without clobbering the listener with Meaning. The album’s coherence is maintained and locked in.
It has to be mentioned that this newbie band’s album wouldn’t be scooping up nearly as much attention from the Forks and Gums and ConsequencesOfSounds if it weren’t for the gossip-rag joy of Stranger Things star Joe Keery’s involvement in the band. You won’t be hearing any references to The Upsidedown or Steve Harrington’s epic hair on this record, so it really, really, truly, in no way matters that an actor from a popular series took part in its creation. So…
The nostalgic focus of When I Think Of You In A Castle tends to lean toward a wide variety of ’70s rock, while still dipping into the touchstones that forged the Olden Yolk sound. Slowly waking up with the instrumental “Everywhere All At Once”, we find the Post Animal kids setting that Swingin’ ’60s scene with a classical guitar, followed by some Crazy Diamonds synths, and finally, most importantly, a bit of fake harpsichord. Ah, there we are. For the moment.
Things begin to morph with the rise of some pounding drums, bringing us “Gelatin Mode” with its dueling Thin Lizzy guitars, stuck in that “Boys Are Back In Town” world, but then the bridge swoops in with pure dreamy Pink Floyd, as if David Gilmour himself were breathing his sighs into the track to slow it all down. But that’s not all you get here! At around the 3:30 mark, a dark psych sound that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Black Angels album takes over, with bizarro evil psych lyrics like “Your mind / Gelatin mode / Time to explode.” Three very different experiences threaded into one wild patchwork quilt.
The mix continues: “Tire Eyes” brings us a totally different tonal palette with jazzed up crooning and falsetto hops. “Ralphie” doubles down on the Thin Lizzy sound, but with all the psych elements replaced by ’80s lite rock, particularly in the chorus, where the only thing keeping it from being a Solid Gold hit is the slightly fuzzy vocal mix. “Heart Made of Metal” waters down the influences until you have something kind of aimed at biker rock but without any balls, until the 4 minute mark brings yet another sudden transition to dark psych with its creeping dread. [This seems to be a technique of theirs: it happens on semi-funk vehicle “Special Moment” and dirty guitar and Old Tech robo-vocals True Rock track of “Victory Lap: Danger Zone.”] “Castle” is a return to Floyd town, whereas “One Thing” features falsetto vocals, tropical-smooth guitar licks, and some tooting synths that make it this album’s slow jam from god-knows-when. Not 2018; that much can be said.
If Post Animal had to pick one collection of sounds to define itself, they should start with the sounds that form “Dirtpicker”, the proper closing track. Propulsive drums and bass, a whisper of organ, Twilight Zone’d dueling guitars and angular riffs, and an almost early-Shins-style vocal. This might be the first track on the album that sounds like something different. When I’m hearing it, I’m not necessarily taken anywhere else; I’m right here, swirling in the confusion of the modern-day with all its chaos and mystery. Post Animal could really learn a lesson… from Post Animal.
[We’ll just kinda glance past the bonus track “Susie”, which sounds like a discarded Blitzen Trapper tune or maybe an ink-stained photocopy of a Steve Miller jam. It’s fine; it just doesn’t need to be there.]
So, all told: For a seamless and transporting listen, tune into Olden Yolk as the sun rises and sets on their gray-toned scene. As for the Post Animal fellows, they’re a talented group with chops to spare, and fun will be had… but brace yourself for a listen that feels more like a movie soundtrack from last century or an early ‘90s teen’s cross-country mixtape.
Olden Yolk Rating: 85/100
Post Animal Rating: 72/100
Key Olden Yolk Tracks:
Cut To The Quick
Gamblers On A Dime
Takes One To Know One
Key Post Animal Tracks:
David C. Casey