The American version of Sigur Ros?
Sub Pop, 2014
7.0 / 10
Death Vessel’s first album in four and a half years opens with a funeral march. This opening song, “Ejecta”, rises and falls with each lurching percussive hit. The song has a sense a movement – a sense of moving forward and onward – but you never really get the sense that moving forward, in this case, is a good thing.
But for Joel Thibodeau, the singer/songwriter/performer of Death Vessel, moving forward is a good thing. Island Intervals is his third album, and it’s as rich, atmospheric, and cathartic as anything he’s done before. Death Vessel specializes in a brand of progressive folk music. Imagine taking a traditional American folk song and hooking it up to a post rock gas pump, and pumping that folk song full of gas until it’s ripe to pop. So goes Island Intervals, a record that’s not long, but feels like it ought to be given the expansive nature of the songs. Thibodeau’s voice – the band’s defining feature – feels built to tackle this kind of music, and his upper-register, very soft, soprano feels as warm as it does distant.
Sigur Ros’s Jonsi appears for a track here, and it makes perfect sense – the two singers (Jonsi and Thibodeau) have a lot in common. Not only do their voices sound similar, but their music has a lot in common. Death Vessel and Sigur Ros specialize in an expansive musicality, which is to say that their music doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a room. Instead, their music sounds like it takes place in a vacuum, where notes and chords can go on forever. I suppose you can call it “otherworldly”, but these two bands’ styles are probably more “worldly” than anything else you’ll really hear. There’s happiness, loneliness, sadness, and strange mixtures of these three things abound on Island Intervals, so as strange and foreign as some of these compositions initially sound, they all sound decidedly human.
So on opening track “Ejecta”, Death Vessel might be doing its best Sigur Ros impression, but it’s an incredibly good one. It’s unfortunate then that, for the rest of the duration of Island Intervals, I kept wanting to hear Thibodeau return to that sound. After the initial funeral bells of that song, the album never quite reaches back into that same macabre atmosphere, and the rest of the songs can’t match how good that song is. I can’t fault him too much for not wanting to stay within that darker frame of mind, but his writing sensibilities work much better within that context. As Death Vessel sways more towards whimsy, the sound becomes less expansive and much more delicate. Thibodeau’s voice is measured and beautiful, and hearing him on any record is always a pleasure, but here’s hoping that Death Vessel’s next LP lives up more to the “death” side of its name.
“Ilsa Drown (feat. Jonsi)”