Upon hearing a name like Death Vessel, the mind is likely to go to viking metal, picturing long wooden ships and long-handled swords and axes aplenty. I won’t dispute that an actual viking metal band named Death Vessel would be great, it likely would, but the actual Death Vessel is one Joel Thibodeau, a Brooklyn singer-songwriter with a penchant for tuneful, delicate pop music that’s gorgeous, yet flows with just a twinge of sadness in its playful melodies. Viking metal this ain’t.
On Death Vessel’s Sub Pop debut Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us, Thibodeau’s childlike voice (some might say `feminine’) and intricately plucked guitar guide the listener through ten songs, all quite fun and lovely in a surrealist sort of way. Leadoff track “Block My Eye” is reminiscent of labelmate Sam Beam, a.k.a Iron & Wine, as Thibodeau’s acoustic plucks have a similarly soothing and hypnotic quality. Yet his lyrics have a scrapbook randomness to them, as he sings lines like “tap my spine/ that grapevine’s been creeping all over my hue.” The finger-snapping of “The Widening” gives way to a barroom piano gypsy stomp that’s part Nilsson and part Waits, the sum of which is something pretty fantastic to be sure. “Bruno’s Torso” opens in similar fashion as many of the other tracks, but offers a surprise midway into the song, with loud bursts of distorted electric guitar erupting through the foundation of the song, adding a bit of muscle to the otherwise calm and gentle tune. “Exploded View” is another mesmerizing standout, with mandolin juxtaposed against a stark, yet heavy bassline and a steady beat, which lends a certain heaviness to the commanding melody.
For a guy whose performing persona conjures images of darkness and malice, Joel Thibodeau is an awfully gentle sort. His voice is soft and high-pitched, and his guitar is sprightly and soothing. Still, when he hammers into a powerful groove, that gentleness subsides, and in its place a more powerful presence emerges. Death Vessel may not be metal, but one thing’s for certain—it sure as hell isn’t folk.
MP3: “Bruno’s Torso”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.