Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

April MP3s: 1

April 1, 2016

1. “Hypachoi” – The Project. A thrumming distorted bass riff underlines this song, which moves from a spartan tune punctuated by clanking chains into a crunchy, towering, dramatic piece. The lyrics are a passionate re-telling of Christ’s death and resurrection. Happy Easter!

2. “Trucksea (feat. Dean McGrath)” – Nonsemble. This indie-pop chamber orchestra packs “Trucksea” full of fluttering strings, dramatic cello, grounding keys, perky drums. The vocals are the most modern thing about the tune, other than perhaps the confidence with which the difficult fusion is pulled off. This is an impressive tune that demands attention.

3. “Wildflower” – Shiloh Hill. Chipper full-band folk that starts with perky trumpet and brings in banjo like rays of sunshine coming out from behind a cloud. The chorus has an anthemic cast similar to The Decemberists, which is always welcome. This album looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Check out their Kickstarter.

4. “Dust” – Ryan Martin John, Todd Sibbin, and Tom West. Kind of like an Australian Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, this ominous track has a ’70s folk vibe, solid group vocals, and a dense, immediate atmosphere.

5. “I Know I” – The Tin Man. A pensive minor-key first verse leads into an ultimately hopeful, thumping folk-pop/alt-pop tune augmented by some distorted guitar providing some background grumble. Goes for a lot of drama and yet stops one inch from going over the top–an admirable skill.

6. “Same Boat” – Vanessa Forero. This is a swift, upbeat, smile-inducing folk-pop tune that doesn’t jump the shark in its arrangement (however, there are mermaids in the stead of Left Shark as part of the video).

7. “Million Miles” – Jesse Konrad. A calm strum, gentle guitar counterpoint, and a friendly organ push this track along in a very chill way.

8. “You Need to Hear It From Someone Else” – Protestant Work Ethic. Lazy horns play against a large choir, an autoharp, melodica, and assorted random percussion–the outcome is like a European version of Typhoon, all the way down to the passionate vocals.

9. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. A surging, major-key chord progression reminiscent of Dan Mangan, a fun organ performance, and a smooth vocal performance come together over a shuffle snare for a tune seems already comfortable and worn in, like a comfy sweater, when you first hear it.

10. “Marigold” – Neil Holyoak. Holyoak’s hazy yet gravitas-laden voice presides over this very carefully constructed folk tune, complete with pedal steel, mandolin, and reverb-washed electric guitar. It’s kind of like Dana Sipos’ work, but in a major key and more instrument-laden. Float away with this track.

11. “Love Is Like a Market Crash” – Thurdy. It takes a lot of work to sound casual. Thurdy’s laid-back, back-porch vibe permeates his baritone vocals, rolling guitar playing, and honest lyrics. It’s a tune that gives you back more than it asks of you.

12. “This Will Be Our Year – Zombies Cover” – Novi Split. David J’s magnetic, utterly gorgeous voice is in full flower here, matching his oh-so-lovely pipes with a “doo-wop meets old-school country in a subtle, spare modern bar” arrangement. It’s just great.

13. “Bed of Nails” – Logan Magness. “Tender” and “romantic” maybe aren’t the phrases most associated with alt-country, but this stripped-down, Isbell-esque acoustic ballad is both. Magness’s smooth tenor is a joy to listen to.

 

2015 Albums of the Year

January 5, 2016

Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.

worn-out-skin

Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.

2. 46 and Raleigh– Cancellieri. (Review)
3. Alone on the World Stage – Cameron Blake. (Review)
4. Where in Our Woods – Elephant Micah. (Review)
5. Jaywalker – Nathan Partain. (Review)
6. Little Lights – Josh Caress. (Review)
7. Southern FM – Rob Williams. (Review)
8. Creeps and Cheaters – Red Sammy. (Review)
9. Take What You Can Carry – Local Strangers. (Review)
10. Roll Up the Night Sky – Dana Sipos. (Review)
11. Kind of Blah – Frog. (Review)
12. Finding Time – Andrew Skeet. (Review)
13. Spun – Moa Bones. (Review)
14. Of This I’m Sure – Jenny and Tyler. (Review) —Stephen Carradini

Dana Sipos: A powerful folk statement made through restraint

June 2, 2015

danasipos

The songs on Dana SiposRoll Up the Night Sky fit the album title well. Almost to a tune, these folk compositions feel like an apt accompaniment to staring up into a clear night sky, feeling the gentle sense of awe that comes from looking at great beauty. Sipos’ ability to set a mood without losing track of the song allows her to create striking individual tunes within an excellent whole.

The impact of Sipos’ sound is not that far from the mystic, hazy folk of Gregory Alan Isakov; however, where Isakov uses gentle distortion and reverb to create his sound, Sipos plays with empty space in her clear-eyed arrangements to invoke an ethereal sense. “Old Sins,” “Morningside,” “Full Moon Sinners” and more imbue stark arrangements with a sense of romance and mystery via Sipos’ engaging, controlled voice. Sipos is the opposite of a belter: she commands attention through tiny inflections here and there, specific phrase lengths, and delicate melodies. There’s drama all throughout Roll Up the Night Sky, but it’s not theatrical in the ostentatious sense of the word. The album is a thoughtful art house film, not a Michael Bay joint.

But let us not lose sight of her instrumentation amid her vocals and careful use of space. She knows how to intricately work an arrangement so that nothing feels cluttered or crowded: “Night Sky” includes fingerpicked mandolin, stand-up bass, percussion, and a horn. Instead of being a jubilant, full-throated blaster, it’s a regal, dignified, calm tune. It reminds me of the sorts of beautiful work that Damien Jurado and Matt the Electrician can put together in their starkest moments. It exemplifies the sorts of arrangements that exist all throughout the album; due to this consistency, Roll will reward you if you listen to it all at once.

Every song on Roll Up the Night Sky is commendable. “Road to Michigan” shows her vocals and guitar at their most Isakov-ian, while “My Beloved” is a poignant, traditional-sounding gentle bluegrass/country ballad. “Holy People” opens with a string section that counts as some of the heaviest work on the album (which points firmly to how quiet this whole work is). Further bonus: these songs are all long. Only two of 12 fall under four minutes, and five are over five minutes. And I haven’t even had time to mention the lyrics, which are shot through with astronomy and loveliness.

Roll Up the Night Sky is a powerful statement made through restraint. It’s a gorgeous, evocative, delicate folk album that shows off Dana Sipos’ formidable talents as a vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. Fans of serious music, female vocalists, or romantic-leaning folk will find themselves with a brilliant talent to enjoy and watch in the future.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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