Dana Sipos’ The Astral Plane is a mesmerizing jewel of an album, an opal with ever-shifting facets, no matter which way you turn it. If one had to classify the album, folk would probably do, but in reality Sipos and her band have created freeform jazz with folk instrumentation. Sipos brought back the band from her stunning 2018 release Track of the Light: Thomas Hammerton (keys, piano, organ), Mark McIntyre (bass), Nick Zubeck (guitar), and Blake Howard (percussion), with guest appearances from Lydia Persaud (vocals) and Michael Davidson (vibraphone.)
The band’s incredible confidence and chemistry bring The Astral Plane to life, turning Sipos’ rich lyrics into something transcendent: not a song, not a poem, but something in the sacred space in between.
Yet Sipos’ lyrics are rooted in the Earth — literally. Calling to her origins in the farm country of southern Ontario, the songs are rich with nature motifs. Throughout the album, Sipos explores the natural life cycle with an eye toward what remains after death and how the impact of a life can linger for generations.
Sipos doesn’t necessarily celebrate this process. Her songs are equally weighted with beauty and a sense of foreboding, as in “Light Around the Body”:
The light around the body is the larch turn its yellow face to the sun
A people stare down the barrel of a gun
After the fault lines of the earth have come undone
And the red gums bleed in the valley of the giants
The angels in the mountain ash have turned their backs
Indeed, on “Greenbelt,” Sipos explores the legacy of the intergenerational trauma her family has faced as a result of the Holocaust:
Strain of the old country pain collides
With the drive and ambition of their new country lives
Tales from before and of the war simmer in the soup and are met at the door
In the hushed tones of their mother tongue
Our mothers spun out on some tough love so hard won
What was once yours is now mine
It’s a hand-me-down story embroidered with time
But there’s a tear down the middle of the tablecloth of this family riddle
There’s no anger as Sipos recalls the tragedies of her family history. Rather, as the band unfurls its questing melodies, the chief emotions are a sort of wry curiosity, suggesting that maybe it’s better not to unlock the past’s secrets. Told in a fairytale sing-song, Sipos also teases a sense of wonder out of the tale, reminding us that life is so much more complicated than a binary sense of “good” or “bad.”
Like her fellow Pacific Northwest storytellers Anna Tivel and Abigail Lapell, Sipos is a master of creating immersive atmospheres for her listeners to lose themselves in. On The Astral Plane, Sipos reminds us of our relatively unimportant place in the world’s larger designs, even as we leave indelible footprints behind.