REVIEW: Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down - We Brave Bee Stings And All
We Listen For You Friday, January 18, 2008
We're moving fast on this one, folks. I was lucky enough to come across an advance copy of Thao Nugyen & the Get Down Stay Down (great backing band name)'s newest album We Brave Bee Stings And All (due out 1/29 on Kill Rock Stars) and was instantly hooked. Nugyen has been garnering critical buzz already for her folky/jazzy music drawing comparisons to every great indie rock female vocalist (Cat Power, Feist, St. Vincent). But, this album separates itself from the rest of the pack with meticulous instrumentation, forthright, self-assured vocals and a rollicking beat.
The well-placed guitar riffs on opening track "Beat (Health, Life and Fired)" is a portend of what is to come. Dangling lines over tight drums underscored with Nugyen's croon are stopped and turned over and over forcing the melody home with a dire urgency. Then comes "Bag of Hammers" with a opening lyric that makes Zach That cringe it's so good: "I'm all in a ball in your front yard I have this bag of hammers / And I won't ask to come in cuz I have sold everything still I have got some manners / And there's a hole in your head spilled your thoughts on the floor / we wanted you bad you wanted it more / the trick is you do not get on that interstate bus / the catch is you stay and see what becomes of us." Then a glorious chorus as jubilant as anything the Polyphonic Spree has done, but without the white robes and over-the-top grandiosity. But wait! Put your headphones on, accenting the percussion is a series of lip clicks that makes Pharrell's production of "Drop it like it's Hot" blush. "Swimming Pools" is a beautiful skiffle-influenced number where Nguyen shows off her ability to put childlike joy into the grind of everyday life.
I love any album which continues to unfold with every listen. The lush (but not too lush) instrumentation gets deeper with every listen. "Geography" is a mellowed out ballad with crawling guitar lines and heavenly keyboard hits. What makes it work is Nguyen's ability to find emotional depth in her lyrics that counterpoints the melodic music of the song. Hence everything reinforces itself and makes each song a little fun treasure. "Fun" may be a weird word to here, but this is the perfect album to dance around your bedroom in your socks on a bad. It's a remarkably confident and ecstatic album - no matter the comparisons that you hear , after one listen you'll be convinced of Nguyen's unique voice in a consistently jaded musical culture and what a voice to hear!
I'm almost ashamed to review this album only after seven spins because each time the music gets stronger and the review score rises. 2008 is the year of 8 bit and Indie Folk. If Crystal Castles is the MVP of 8 bit then Thao Nguyen is the same for Indie Folk. Her banjo rips liek a needle through each track, interweaving a tapestry of sound with her beautiful voice being the yarn. "Swimming Pools" shows off all the powers at work in this album; it's upbeat but sticks to thoughtful lyrics that run throughout. I can't remember the last time I had a reaction to a new act like this, maybe Sufjan Stevens, but in the female form. This album has everything I look for in music: strong lyrics, trying something new, catchy melodies, and makes me want to listen over and over and over. I beg you readers, listen to the album any way necessary, but buy the album when it hits stores...this is an album that needs the full experience of album art and the connection a cd (a forgotten feeling) gives a listener when they have to carry it around and actually spend time with a tangible representation of the music.