Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Like a week of watching sunrises and sunsets over a snowy landscape; that's how Joel Thibodeau's third album as Death Vessel feels. Appropriately, its realization came after an invite from Sigur Ros singer Jónsi to work in Iceland with producer Alex Somers and a backing band of predictably magical minstrels. The result dresses Thibodeau's fable-inflected folk songs and high registered vocal with the lovely and intricate instrumentation you'd expect busy cartoon birds to weave.
On 2008’s Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us, Joel Thibodeau—better known as Death Vessel—offered up a stack of songs that were rooted in ’60s folk and all of its components, including jazz, bluegrass and country. The centerpiece in all of that was, of course, Thibodeau’s haunting voice, which could easily be mistaken for a woman’s. He’s able to squeeze a lot of emotion from songs that are relatively barebones.
The last we heard from Providence, Rhode Island-based songwriter Joel Thibodeau aka Death Vessel was the earthy fare of 2008's Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us. While that album wasn't exclusively folk music, its acoustic core was in line with the woodsier tendencies of Thibodeau's songwriting, serving as a gentle and sometimes dark backdrop for his uncommonly high voice and sentimental moods. Death Vessel comes out of a six-year hiatus with Island Intervals, an icily beautiful album that veers away from the campfire reflections of past albums and into far more sophisticated arrangements, production, and songwriting.
The third album from Rhode Islander Joel Thibodeau under the Death Vessel name is one of the finest things Sub Pop has put out these last 12 months, and we’re including the Mogwai album in that. Understated, warm songwriting and unshowy production mask a record full of subtle touches and hidden depths. If the unmistakable voice of Sigur Rós’s Jónsi Birgisson didn’t already soar across the chorus of ‘Iisa Drown’ you’d probably still detect his hand at play in the production chair: Island Intervals shares the same sense of sonic detail and all-encompassing, blissful otherness that made the Icelandic space wizards ambient household names.
Joel Thibodeau has a beautiful voice, there’s no doubt about it. His record label, Sub Pop, will tell you. His fans will tell you. Pretty much anyone with ears that function correctly will tell you. His frail, melodious tones engender moods of intimacy and tenderness, draped as they are across ….
There’s something to Joel Thibodeau’s music that makes it sound like it’s been pulled from a hermetically sealed terrarium, where life has flourished untouched by the outside world over the course of a few decades. He makes instrumentally ornate folk music unafraid to bust out a pump organ or kalimba to locate an archaic emotion, and sings with an idiosyncratic falsetto that gives credence to the description “God-given. ” Recording as Death Vessel, Thibodeau released two albums in 2005 (a year when the popularity of Devendra Banhart, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning Bright Eyes and half the Arts and Crafts roster made him an obvious debut) and 2008, then fell off the radar.
To travel is to experience. Expanding horizons enrich the mind, sharpen perspectives and make the general colour of life more vibrant. Or, at least, so we are told. Trekking the globe with friends and acquaintances may sound appealing, but what about venturing out on your own? Whilst some swear by the liberating experience of setting off with no ties, no baggage and nobody else, for others this idea is enough to induce palpitations.
With musician Joel Thibodeau’s diverse palate of folk inspiration, his Death Vessel project belies easy, accurate classification. He drew from country, blues, jazz, rock, and pop on his previous releases, the charming Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us and the rustic Stay Close. His latest, Island Intervals, finds the Rhode Island native bouncing down a richer and more playful trajectory.
It’s been six years since Joel Thibodeau gave us a Death Vessel record, the subtly versatile folk of 2008’s Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us. That record let its brightness shine through, and Thibodeau’s voice seemed to be part of that. There’s something almost angelic and certainly arresting about his voice, it has a sweetness to it that seems to melt his words at the edges.