Album Review: Thao And The Get Down Stay Down – We The Common
OverviewGenre: alternative, Folk, Indie
Pros:Unabashed, unadultarated good time tunage. And Joanna Newsom.
Cons:The cutesy element may grate on a few nerves, and there is a repetitive element to the relentless upbeat feel
Thao and The Get Down Stay Down get down, and take us with them. Music to bake Rice Krispie buns to.
So you think you know what folk rock sounds like? We had an idea, down here in the Ramp basement, but it turned out we were thinking more along the lines of whiskey and sawdust than fizzy drinks and discos. We The Common, the fourth release from San Francisco-based Thao Nguyen and her band, pings with colour and snappy musical phrases. Bookended by Modest Mouse and The Polyphonic Spree evocations, it comes as no surprise then to learn that producer John Congleton numbers these bands on his CV, adding a familiar hue to the blended funk, lounge jazz, pop, do-wop, kitchen sink concoction.
In an album that alludes to change and progression in a vague sense, the upbeat numbers can mask what’s going on lyrically. Having worked with the Californian Coalition for Women Prisoners, Nguyen dedicates opener ‘We The Common’ to prisoner Valerie Bolden. A folky strummed banjo and vocals gives way to high-pitched harmonies and hip-hop beats in a marriage of styles that typifies proceedings. A more in-ya-face ‘City’ utilises percussive jackhammering in the tUnE-yArDs mould. ‘Move’ also flirts with heavy tension before giving way to a pretty, fuzzed melody that’s shredded apart with that punk edge.
These darker moments are few and far between though in what is essentially a playful album, where much instrumental accentuation competes in a bizarre and innovative manner. ‘We Don’t Call’ saunters along with horn punches and lovely poppy vocal sections whereas ‘Every Body’ is a busier creature, insistent and full of exuberance. ‘The Feeling Kind’ is another jaunt through effortless bijou pop, complete with endearing piano embellishments and a swing band ending.
Oddly, in an album so relentlessly upbeat and bouncy where the fun is in the multitude of sounds thrown at each song, it is the pared-back folk of ‘Kindness Be Conceived’ that shines brightest. Duetting with Joanna Newsom, the contrast between the dual vocals is striking, marking the song apart from anything else on here and highlighting the somewhat same-y timbre of Nguyen’s voice. ‘Human Heart’ is a joyous do-wop riot right from the offset before the eccentric musical interjections of ‘Age Of Ice’ herald the mildly anthemic – if abrupt – fitting end to this mischievous collection. It’s familiar territory and it’s twee to the core despite the embellishments, but it’s also uplifting and fun…and that’s just fine.