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Thursday, August 21, 2014 
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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
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+ Rafael Toral - Space
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+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
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+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
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+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
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+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
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+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
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+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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Death Vessel
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Stay Close
Northeast Indie
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The psyche-folk revival has unearthed a whole Who's Who worth of lost 1960s and 1970s artists, yet it has left older music largely untouched. Death Vessel, a Rhode Island-based folk collective with Joel Thibodeau at its core, reach back further, drawing inspiration from forgotten Appalachian hollows and rickety wooden-staged minstrel shows.

Unlike forebears like Palace Music and 16 Horsepower, Death Vessel draw from the brighter, more fluid end of the musical spectrum, weaving buoyant, major-key melodies around surreal and abstract lyrics. Thibodeau's high, melodic voice soars above picked banjos and upright-bass thumps. He sings with sweetness, surety and simplicity, reminding you more of a prepubescent choir boy than of any contemporary high tenor singers. (He is, for example, nothing like Jeff Hanson or Antony, or even Devendra Banhart.) His singing is occasionally embellished by tight harmonies, but always lands easily on the upper-register notes.

When Death Vessel is on the marquee, show-goers can expect anything from just Thibodeau and his guitar to a full-fledged, multi-member string band. Here, Thibodeau's main songwriting partner, multi-instrumentalist Erik Carlson, appears on all but two tracks, while Pete Donnelly and Freddie Berman switch off on drums (Donnelly also plays bass and sings). Meg and Laura Baird add lovely female harmonies to "Later in Life Lift" and "Tidy Nervous Breakdown." Micah Blue Smalldone, whose solo albums are rooted in the same pre-industrial guitar and banjo traditions as Death Vessel, adds his retro resonator guitar to the disc's most backwards-looking track, the bluegrassy "Mandan Dink," as well as the darker, more folk-centered "White Mole."

Most of the songs transcend their old-timeyness, more inspired by tradition than impelled to copy it. "Snow Don't Fall," with its thudding bass and circling guitar riff, is as much rock ballad as folk reproduction, and the lovely "Break the Empress Crown," feels almost divorced from time with its pure melody and minimal organ tones. When the country fiddle breaks in, after a lengthy introduction, it melds with rock drums and harmonized voices in a motif that is old and new at once.

On two tracks, Death Vessel manage to meld darker rock energy with a folky lilt, leaning almost into 16 Horsepower's intense, gothic territory. The first of these, "Blowing Cave," presents driving, minor-key guitar strums, shot through with reverberating electric tones. The drama of the electric, colliding with the nervous energy of the acoustic, carries this tune into a new dimension where it simply seems to matter more. "Deep in the Horchata," the second track, is an off-kilter jig of Appalachian guitar notes, punctuated with syncopated drums, and layered over with Thibodeau's eccentric voice. These two songs have a tension and purpose quite distinct from the rest of the album's laid-back vibe, and perhaps they suggest a direction worth pursuing.


by Jennifer Kelly




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