Death Vessel is a project headed by Joel Thibodeau. While the group has featured a slew of guest musicians, it is entirely Thibodeau’s work (both as a solo artist and band leader). In the interim between his last record for Sub Pop and Island Intervals, Joel was invited to Reykjavik by Sigur Ros singer Jonsi and producer Alex Summers. There, they spent three months together recording the album, his first in five years.
Starting with a slow build of harmonium, toy pianos, and unidentifiable percussion, opening track “Ejecta” abruptly turns into a dense pop song (albeit a solemn one). Thibodeau references “bouncy castles” and “the exhaled youth”, suggesting a newfound sense of nostalgia in his writing. With respect to the pacing and overall feel of Island Intervals, “Ejecta” serves as a perfect opening track.
Sub Pop’s press release describes Thibodeau’s voice as “slender, winsome…at once so comforting and so unsettling that it might be the greatest of his many strengths”. His vocals has a tendency to float above the rest of the music, and while using ‘ethereal’ as a descriptor may be cliché, it truly does have an otherwordly quality. If he weren’t singing in English, Thibodeau could be mistaken for Jonsi on many of Island Interval’s songs.
The influence of Jonsi and Summers shines through in more than just Thibodeau’s singing. Tracks like “Velvet Antlers” and “Ejecta” feature the same slow build to crescendo that characterizes much of Sigur Ros’ music. Most of Island Interval’s formula feels rooted more in contemporary indie rock than folk, but there are a few exceptions. “Mercury Dime” is an upbeat song led by a rollicking guitar-and-drum combination. “Isla Drown” follows, indebted equal parts to Jonsi/Sigur Ros and the 70s English folk movement. While the sparse acoustic fingerpicking could be influenced by Richard Thompson, the vocal melody is as beautiful as Jonsi’s strongest work.
Island Intervals is a marked improvement from Thibodeau’s earlier work. If he continues down this route, we could see him reaching the same critical acclaim that his Icelandic contemporaries did in decades past.