Death Vessel’s “Island Intervals” an Atmospheric Accomplishment

9 Apr

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Joel Thibodeau is a neo-traditional folk artist from Rhode Island who records under the name Death Vessel.

The artist made his debut on 2005’s Stay Close and followed that with 2008’s Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us. Both were more traditional indie folk-leaning albums, largely distinguished by Thibodeau’s exceptionally high for a male, almost soprano, register.

While his current release, Island Intervals, also fits best into the folk genre, this highly satisfying 8-song set is often washed with atmospheric soundscapes along the lines of Bon Iver or even Freelance Whales.

Thibodeau’s thin, light vocals with deeply thoughtful, if sometimes obscure, lyrics — “For the nonce I will dream of when we jointly preened,” he sings on “Triangulated Heart” — are typically delivered with a breezy finish that provides a dreamlike frosting on the lighter-than-air soundscapes.

The album was recorded in multiple trips over a period of years from Rhode Island to Reykjavik, Iceland — hence the name Island Intervals. The extended timeframe for recording the album — rather than the typical weeks or months — have resulted in a collection of songs that can be grouped into two or three distinct sets. More ethereal and atmospheric with effects. Atmospheric, but without many effects. More acoustic folky and down to earth. This helps the album avoid the sameness that can limit this genre — while still providing a cohesive whole.

Album highlights include “Mercury Dime,” a bouncy and melodic tune in a more structured arrangement. “Ilsa Drown” is another acoustic and breezy entry, with fingerpicked strings and lilting, dreamy guest lead vocals by Jónsi, of Iceland’s Sigur Rós, who helped record the CD.

“Island Vapors” brings a more determined, driving energy created by pummeling drums, bass, piano, and dulcitone. The opening track, “Ejecta,” is the most Freelance Whales-sounding track (without the banjo). Textured and atmospheric, the song relies on a pump organ, interspersed with machine-like clanking and bells. And “We Agreed” is a folky, acoustic guitar-driven number with sparklingly clear vocals that really showcase Thibodeau’s astonishing register.

If you have a taste for bands such as Bon Iver or Freelance Whales — or perhaps even if you don’t — this is well worth your attention. It will be on many of the Top 50 lists of 2014.

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