Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
“We the Common”
Kindred spirits: Karen O, St. Vincent
Show: With Sally Ford and the Sound Outside on Wednesday at the Black Cat. Doors open at 8 p.m. 202-667-4490. www.blackcatdc.com. $17.
Thao Nguyen’s new album, “We the Common,” which she released with her band, the Get Down Stay Down, is just the sort of record you would expect from a 2006 graduate of William and Mary who studied sociology and women’s studies.
Nguyen writes smart, imaginative tunes with cryptic and philosophical lyrics that belie a depth to the Falls Church native.
Nguyen’s fourth album uses layers of unique sounds that evolve and devolve in and out of the songs to produce an often out-of-control, slightly seasick feeling. On “Move,” horns and strings dot the musical landscape until they collapse into a cacophony only to be revived back to the original melody when the song seems to end with a sigh. “Clouds for Brains” starts with a bass line and a drum beat that can leave a listener feeling lethargic and uncomfortable.
But when Nguyen takes a whimsical and youthful approach, singing oohs and ahs with child-like energy, it relieves some of the album’s musical tension. The opening title track begins with a simple, hollow-sounding banjo, until erupting into an upbeat chorus that contrasts with Nguyen’s lyrics about Valerie Bolden, a prisoner serving a life sentence whom Nguyen befriended through her social work.
The album is filled with a feeling of youthful exuberance and hope. Nguyen doesn’t so much sing melodically as speak rhythmically, as if she’s standing on a milk crate in the middle of her adopted San Francisco home, shouting over a choppy sea of instrumental sounds.
— Moira E. McLaughlin