Once again, the infectious, androgynous soprano of Joel Thibodeau comes alive in a rambling, sprawling, genre-splitting noise machine. Expectations are as stripped down as the honest instrumentation, as Thibodeau beckons us to wake in his lush, high pitched blues. But it's also folk, alt-folk, jazz, and at times, indescribable in it's eccentricity. Actually, the only thing certain on this record is a general sense of anything but the lackadaisical. This is a well whittled piece of wood, crafted with care.
Often on this record Thibodeau sounds like a sweet cherub peddling intricate spindly constructions in a fairy-infested magical forest. This guy could lull a pit-bull to sleep. The album moves in all sorts of directions, simultaneously sounding rustic or well-aged and progressive. It's just the kind of strange dichotomy I usually expect from Subpop's impressive, ever expansive roster: bands that on the surface lean towards pedestrian and overdone, but at the heart mean to shuffle our perceptions into a whirlwind of attractive sounds. Fleet Foxes did so in a much larger way earlier this year, with their incredibly nostalgic folk-chant. Death Vessel comes at us less baroque, more the PG version of Conor Oberst... but no less appealing.
Highlights include "Bruno's Torso," "Obadiah In Oblivion" and opener "Block My Eye;" basically the tracks that best utilize the finger picking fluidity of Joel's best vocal line/guitar part match-ups. I have to say though, my favorite part of the entire thing is the breakdown in "Peninsula," where the band simply goes off the deep end in a jammy frenzy.
An army of collaborators make this record jump, but Joel is the heart, pumping blood through the eleven tracks. At times it feels like a lack of oxygen to the brain, at others, cardiac arrest. Whatever the case, percussive finger picking and Thibodeau's voice match the twinkle of the songs, and the ups and downs even out to an enjoyable outing.- joe puglisi