Since the success of The Shins and The Postal Service, Seattle’s Sub Pop Records have continued putting out releases that are just to the left of the middle in their respective genre; different enough to appeal to the hipsters but without too many outré swerves that would rule out mainstream crossover appeal. Much of their output is also united by clean production and eye-catching packaging that take an outsider art aesthetic and place it a modern design framework (see Chad Vangaalen, Rogue Wave, Wolf Parade).
The second long player from Joel Thibodeau’s Death Vessel continues this trend, with its light take on psychedelic ‘anti-folk’ as popularised by Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and endless twee mobile phone adverts.
The most arresting element of Thibodeau’s music is the femininity of his voice. This androgyny is initially captivating, delicately delivering lyrics that would probably sound a little ridiculous if sung with greater clarity, such as “thick amount per unit time / agitative monarchs herniate / skyey distance in boldface blue / subscripting the whole of Jitterkadie” (from ‘Jitterkadie’). There’s some lovely wordplay on the album that shows that Thibodeau’s clearly in thrall to the English language, but at times it bears a passing resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. I’m not sure a dictionary should be an essential accessory to lyrical enjoyment.
It’s hard to find fault with the arrangements here, though that’s partly the problem at the heart of this record. Everything you would expect from modern American anti-folk is present: fingers catching on acoustic guitar strings? Check. Baltic horn flourishes? Check. Gently plucked banjo? Check. And so on. It’s all too easy to listen to Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us as (undoubtedly lovely) background accompaniment but it is doubtful it will have any lasting resonance in a crowded genre. The problem with taking away the rough edges and quirks is that the road less travelled is often the most thrilling. It compells you to investigate more closely, making an album stick in the mind. Unfortunately, Death Vessel doesn’t have those moments that will pull me back in time and again.
MP3: Death Vessel – Bruno’s Torso [Via Sub Pop]