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First Listen: Death Vessel, 'Island Intervals'

Death Vessel's new album, <em>Island Intervals</em>, comes out Feb. 25.
Corey Grayhorse
Courtesy of the artist
Death Vessel's new album, Island Intervals, comes out Feb. 25.

Joel Thibodeau's music doesn't emanate from a single place: The singer who records under the name Death Vessel was born in Germany and raised in New England, and he recorded his new album Island Intervals in Reykjavik with the aid of producer Alex Somers and Sigur Rós singer Jónsi. That list of places provides context beyond mere biographical background, because Thibodeau's music reflects virtually every direction in which he's been pulled. His eerily high voice sounds equally suited to basement-bound laments and celestial explorations, and Island Intervals finds him splitting the difference and exploring the tension between those extremes.

As soaring as it sounds at times, Island Intervals — Death Vessel's third album, and first since 2008 — is the sound of containment, with Thibodeau examining the way rootless searchers strain against literal and figurative captivity. As such, it feels interior and intimate, even as it strains heavenward. Jonsi himself turns up in "Ilsa Drown," lending that gorgeous song some of his familiar "fyooo" sounds, but the song's majesty feels carefully muted. "Mercury Dime" and "Velvet Antlers" find Thibodeau playing in perkier terrain, but Island Intervals keeps turning him around until he faces inward.

Especially as it winds down with a pair of exquisite ballads, Island Intervals can feel deceptively modest and quiet. But where Death Vessel's music lacks grandiosity, it finds grace in abundance.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)