Friday, February 1, 2008

we brave bee stings and all

stoically maintaining his total lack of care for that band that is oh-so-popular this week, mr. mammoth wants to tell you about thao nguyen's new album in a friendly, conversational, and possibly mocking fashion. mr. mammoth hopes that that is okay with you.

like most children, thao nguyen was born. twelve years later, she picked up a guitar. unlike many children who played guitar, she didn't use it to get chicks. or give it up after college. no, she stuck with it - thao ain't no quitter. in addition to these inspirational thoughts, she needed something to do at her mother's laundromat. then, some blah blah, she released an ep, was inspired by lilith fair (gag, anyone?), and has a band called the get down stay down. awesome name, no? they have just released their second record, the super cutesy titled we brave bee stings and all, on kill rock stars, and it's way excellent. if you're fact-repping, her first album, like the linen, was totally named for the laundromat.

lots of people will tell you thao nguyen sounds like chan marshall. those people are mostly wrong. she sounds a little like chan marshall, but it's kinda just cuz they both a) are from the south, and b) sing some form of blue music (chan handles the blues, thao the bluegrass). also, on "beat (health, life and fire)," the first track kill rock stars leaked from we brave, thao does kinda channel chan's huskiness, but it doesn't last - the vast majority of we brave are quirky little ditties, sweet and endearingly childish (especially on the distinctive young-kid ballad "big kid table"). thao's sophomore album is her first post-graduation (from william and mary), and is studded with stories of exploration, development and anxiety, all playfully arranged with buoyant banjos and subtle beatboxing (thao's secret talent).

we brave bee stings and all is notable for its disparity of styles as much as its overall enjoyability (definitely a word). "swimming pools," the album's overwhelmingly best track, is heavily steeped in bluegrass picking, while "feet asleep" features a horn section worthy of a honky-tonk circus. the penultimate "travel" is a brisk trot, ear-catching in a field of slow, easy songs, and rewarding from all the pickin' going on.

it's not a stretch to imagine thao & el get down stay down in a brightly-lit lounge somewhere, serenading happy, well-adjusted people with their cheerful anthems, but thao's lyrics sometimes hide behind the perkiness of her tunes. the well-titled "fear and convenience" highlights a sadder side of thao's love life ("i have see fear and convenience / i have never glimpsed romance"), and easy, beatboxed hit "bag of hammers" has what may be the album's best lyrics: "the trick is / you do not get on that interstate bus / the catch is / you stay and see what becomes of us," delivered with thao's characteristically off-putting nonchalance.

there was a time, not too long ago (you may well remember it), when bands actually had to release a full album before the rivers of praise cascaded over their shoulders (ok, last vampire weekend crack of the week), but, even more than that, prove that they could learn and improve over time, incorporating new tricks and talents into their songs. having been through a whole heap together, thao nguyen and the get down stay down have a better working (and songwriting) relationship, and have clearly matured in the two years since like the linen was released. now managed by kill rock stars' ex-honcho slim moon (man, i would kill for that name), thao etc. have written a slick and sensitive folk pop record that will turn as many heads as nod to its catchy beats and mouth its clever lyrics.

thao nguyen & the get down stay down hit new york on feb 4, opening for death vessel at the knitting factory. they play boston on the 3rd, and move on from there. they're also opening for xiu xiu on their national tour.

buy we brave bee stings and all from

1 comment:

Mr Rossy said...

I thought this new album was her first release...gonna have to check that old one out...great review by the way !!! I saw her play the other day and she was great !!! Nice one !!