Backing Vocals – A Mixtape By Olden Yolk

 ” The only thing better than singing is more singing. “
Ella Fitzgerald

Why do we sing together? Well for starters this website probably wouldn’t exist if we didn’t, but what is it about putting our words to music, that, as a species we love so much. Even before you get to the aspect of creativity, community spirits and togetherness, there’s the almost magical sounding science behind it. Neuroscientists have shown that singing as a group actually makes us smarter, happier, healthier and considerably more attractive, and we only made one of those up. On top of that the endorphins released by singing help fight numerous illnesses, from depression to Alzheimers. Basically by singing together, we are able to create a drug that not only makes us high as a kite and giddy as a kipper, it also turns us into indefatigable super-humans.

Across the globe, and across almost all communities, there’s some tradition of group singing. From football fans on the terraces, to drunk businessmen in karaoke bars, across the globe many of us have developed a taste for singing along and singing together. The other good thing about singing in a really large group, is that you can, like us, be as tone deaf as a purebred dog, and get drowned out to the extent that nobody will notice, which we assure you is good for everyone involved.

Photo by Daniel Dorsa –

One of our tips for 2018, Olden Yolk are today set to put out their sublime, self-titled, debut album. The New York band are built around the duo of songwriters, vocalists, and multi-instrumentalists Shane Butler (of Quilt fame) and Caity Shaffer. The band’s debut record is a wonderfully crafted affair, influenced, as the band explain, by a, “penchant for dystopian folk, abstract poeticism, and motorik rhythms”.

The album is a varied and beautiful affair drifting from moments of hazy melancholy, to driving, sophisticated pop. Whether it’s the searing, angular, genius of Vital Sign or the introspective shuffle of Common Ground, Olden Yolk always bring something fresh and exciting to whatever style they turn their hand to. Best of all might be the epic eight-minute closing track, Takes One To Know One, a swirling hypnotic call for what Noam Chomsky called, optimism over despair, as they repeat the central line, “have faith dark days they will turn around”. An important reminder that there’s always some light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the most impressive factors in Olden Yolk’s sound is the way the two vocals interlace together, ducking and diving around another with a series of playful, powerful harmonies. Celebrating that fact, the band have today put together a mixtape featuring some of their favourite examples of backing vocals, taking in music from a huge variety of genres and countries, which you can check out below.

1. Vernon Wray – Prison Song

The mournful backing singers here sound like souls escaping from a grave. They’re present from the beginning to the end, and seem to perfectly encapsulate what it might feel like to be a caged human.

2. Spiritual Singers – Nzo A Dise

Spiritual Singers are a Congolese pop-gospel group who recorded and performed sometime between 1970 to 1980. Mississippi Records released this album in 2009 and it contains some of the most blissful vocals we’ve heard. The guitar playing is rambling, the rhythms are hypnotic, and their voices together conjure a gateway into another realm. As the song progresses the vocals enter a trance that holds us in spellbound captivity.

3. Circuit des Yeux – Paper Bag

We were very excited when this song came out last year, and for Haley’s record as a whole. The vocals at the beginning of the song pulsate and radiate with a special kind of energy. “Paper Bag” takes the elements we admire about Meredith Monk’s compositions to a whole new level.

4. Carlos Gesualdo – Peccantem me Quotidie (“I sin daily”)

Here’s a piece for five vocalists by the outlandish composer Carlos Gesualdo, who may have “sinned” daily, as he was alleged to have killed his family. That feeling of penitence is palpable here as the vocals rise up into a cloudy dissonance. There’s no defined “lead” or “background” vocals as exist in modern music, but the relationship between the voices is something transcendent.

5. King James Version – He’s Forever

“He’s Forever” builds slowly into a chaotic chorus that is extremely satisfying to both of us. The lead vocalist sings various proclamations while the audience—a group of screaming people, probably in a church—and another member of the clergy respond by whispering, screaming, harmonizing, and commenting intermittently. An impressive range of background vocal flavors.

6. Dara Puspita – Bhaktiku

This group was an all-female guitar pop band from Surabaya, Indonesia who were performing during the 1960’s and 70’s. At times surf, at times Beatles-esque, and at times completely void of reference, this bands background vocals glide seamlessly along the lead in every composition. This song in particular has a constant vocal phrasing that becomes the most crucial instrument in the backing track. A beautiful, consistent, and light-hearted chant.

7. Pale Saints – Little Hammer

The continuous, descending vocal in the backdrop of “Little Hammer” sounds unabashedly heartbroken. It uplifts the melody, transforming this song about a childhood toy into a devotional tune.

8. Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Shahbaz Qalandar

This ecstatic Sufi style of singing (Qawaali) involves the notion of multiple ‘side singers’ who accompany the lead singer (Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in this case). The vocals play off of each other with various riffs in a constant rhythm. The singers throw phrases before one of them breaks off to yell with uncontrollable devotion.

Olden Yolk’s debut album is out this Friday via Trouble In Mind Records. Click HERE for more information on Olden Yolk.

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