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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.

Top 11 songs of the year

December 28, 2011

Unlike the mixtape, this list is set up in order.

11. “Nights Like This” – Icona Pop. I love a chorus that I can belt at the top of my lungs in a moving vehicle, and this dance-pop gem provides. I get shivers just thinking about those euphoric “whoa-oh-oh-OH-oh”s.

10. “I Don’t Want to Go To Sleep Either” – FM Belfast. Goofy, catchy, brilliant electro-pop. The video matches the absurd glee of the tune.

9. “Turbulence” – Of God and Science. Haunting ukelele-fronted indie-rock with a gorgeous vocal melody. The uke doesn’t always have to be cute, yo.

8. “No Silver” – Chris Bathgate. Creaky, world-weary, immediately arresting folk songwriting set in a beautiful arrangement.

7. “Shoeboxes” – David Ramirez. Poignant lyrics, timeless songwriting, effortlessly evocative vocal performance; what more can you ask for in a singer/songwriter tune?

6. “I Wish You Didn’t Feel Like My Home” – Matt the Electrician. Hands down the best lyrical outing of the year, as Matt deftly maneuvers through breakup cliches to the heart of the matter. The delicate songwriting is excellent as well.

5. “Song for You” – Jenny and Tyler. Jenny and Tyler transformed from a Weepies-esque duo to a powerful, churning folk-rock duo, and this song is the best example. I get shivers when the band crashes in.

4. “Norgaard” – The Vaccines. When I turned in my last paper, I put this pop-punk rave-up on repeat and danced all the way home. I’m sure people thought I was nuts. I don’t care – the song is that good.

3. “Kitchen Tile” – Typhoon. I’ve got a book on my stack to read about rock’n’roll and the desire for transcendence; Typhoon has already achieved it in folk with this song. Vocal melody, choirs, horns, strings, This is everything I want in a folk tune.

2. “Sticks & Stones” – Jonsi. The charging rhythm, unique textures and ethereal vocals made this the most infectious song I heard all year. I rocked this one all summer … and fall.

1. “Putting the Dog to Sleep” – The Antlers. Powerful: The most devastating lyrics of the year paired with a raw, stark skeleton of a doo-wop tune.

Top Fifty Songs of the Year Mixtape

December 27, 2011

I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.

1. “Nights Like This” – Icona Pop
2. “Bass, Not an 8-track” – Oh Look Out
3. “I Don’t Want to Go To Sleep Either” – FM Belfast
4. “Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel?)” – Chad Valley
5. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” – Generationals
6. “Sticks & Stones” – Jonsi
7. “Norgaard” – The Vaccines
8. “Just Me and My Canseco Rookie Card” – Banquets
9. “Axiomatic” – Bottle Up and Explode
10. “Yeah (Crass Version)” – LCD Soundsystem (Live at Madison Square Garden)
11. “Good in Green” – Saturday Sirens
12. “A Dream of Water” – Colin Stetson
13. “No Reservation” – Del Bel
14. “Box-Type Love” – Run Dan Run
15. “What Once Ran Wild” – Wild Domestic
16. “Movement” – Dam Mantle
17. “Saw You First” – Givers
18. “Glass Deers” – Braids
19. “Cassette 2012” – Delay Trees
20. “James Franco” – Hoodie Allen
21. “Black and White” – Generationals
22. “Kam” – Oh Look Out
23. “Prowl Great Cain” – The Mountain Goats
24. “Hobo Chili” – Attica! Attica!
25. “Montauk Monster” – Laura Stevenson and the Cans
26. “Down to the River” – Cameron Blake
27. “We Will Never Have Tonight Again” – Sandra McCracken
28. “Turbulence” – Of God and Science
29. “Nothing But Love Can Stay” – Afterlife Parade
30. “Stones” – The Collection
31. “The Region of the Summer Stars” – Come On Pilgrim!
32. “Fever” – The Collection
33. “The Healthy One” – Laura Stevenson and the Cans
34. “Some Boys” – Death Cab for Cutie
35. “Girls Girls Girls” – John Lepine
36. “At the Grindcore Show” – Common Grackle
37. “Simple Girl” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
38. “Dear Annabeth” – The Duke of Norfolk
39. “Kitchen Tile” – Typhoon
40. “Women in the Kitchen” – The Fox and the Bird
41. “Song for You” – Jenny and Tyler
42. “Find You” – Brianna Gaither
43. “Someone Like You” – Adele
44. “Through Your Eyes” – Jenny and Tyler
45. “No Silver” – Chris Bathgate
46. “Shoeboxes” – David Ramirez
47. “Unwed Fathers” – Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle
48. “I Wish You Didn’t Feel Like My Home” – Matt the Electrician
49. “In Parts” – Run Dan Run
50. “Putting the Dog to Sleep” – The Antlers

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

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