Release Date: Aug 19, 2008
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop, Folk
Born in Berlin, raised in Boston, now resident in Brooklyn, Joel Thibodeau's Death Vessel project is a brilliantly realised slice of trad-folk gorgeousness, where a group of players act as satellites lazily circling his formidable talents. Thibodeau writes everything (including lines like "I moan when excavating foam, elbows out bulge in a night flowerer"), sings everything in a choirboy-like falsetto and, as well as the usual guitars, drums and pianos, also plays railroad spikes, wine glasses and his own thighs. Happily, the music resists the temptation to be unlistenably torturous and resides in a softly lit cutting off the little-used branch line running between the boneyard howl of Tom Waits' Rain Dogs and the hushed and crushed, white-gospel grace of early Cowboy Junkies.
Blessed with the kind of softly expressive, androgynous-veering-towards-very-feminine voice that effortlessly captivates, Joel Thibodeau’s second album as Death Vessel certainly makes for an enticing prospect. A quick run-through of his touring compatriots is indicative of what we’re dealing with here (Iron & Wine, Low, José Gonzalez), though the trick and strength of Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us is how it reveals its charms gradually. Certainly, on a cursory listen there’s nothing here likely to stop you in your tracks – aforementioned voice aside – but through its sweet, dusty tone and lilting, unhurried sway, it sneaks under the skin; growing irrevocably in stature in the space between listens.
Singer/songwriter Joel Thibodeau's sophomore effort, and first for Sub Pop, expands on the luminous, "new weird Americana" that peppered his 2005 debut. Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us may inadvertently land in the leathery laps of a handful of unsuspecting black metal fans who thought they'd take a chance on some no-name band called Death Vessel, but it's target audience falls squarely in the Iron & Wine/Devendra Banhart camp, both of whom are not without their dark moments. Thibodeau employs a small army of guest musicians with an even larger arsenal of instruments, and it's a testament to all involved that the arrangements never overpower the lyrics, which are sung in the same, impossibly high and clear falsetto that fueled Stay Close.
If you find Grand Archives a little too rockin', Band of Horses a tad too twangy, Iron & Wine far too aggressive and Antony and the Johnsons just too darn macho, Sub Pop has the weedy folk pop twitter for you in Brooklyn's Death Vessel. Fronted by singer/songwriter Joel Thibodeau, whose coy soprano delivery could pass for that of a 12-year-old girl, Death Vessel have come up with a uniformly bland set of delicate ditties for Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us that are lightly strummed in a way that's so frightfully fey, it could make José González want to rip Thibodeau's guitar from his hands and smash it against the wall John Belushi-style. Of course, it's possible that some may find this stuff charming, and those looking for cutesy fluff are welcome to it.
The title of Death Vessel's latest might read as a self-deprecating retort to critics of Joel Thibodeu's richly melodic lilts, but it's more statement of purpose than arch irony. Mr. Thibodeu moves past the indie and country influences of 2005's Stay Close (which we really, really loved) toward a darker strain of Americana, only to reject it. The album is a steadfast pursuit of the loveliest melody, of the most lyrical lyrics.