Thao & The Get Down Stay Down want you to listen up to their emotionally charged album

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Review by Daniel Watkins The Daily Barometer

“A Man Alive” by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down was released March 4 2016 on Ribbons Records.

With this new album, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down blend alternative folk with cut-and-paste hip-hop and garage funk.

It is recommended if you like: tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent, Beck or Mirah.

Producer Merrill Garbus accentuates the band’s sound with a sampling technique that is reminiscent of his work under the tUnE-yArDs moniker.

In the album’s press release, singer and songwriter Thao Nguyen stated, “I wanted ‘A Man Alive’ to be beat and bass-driven — rather than guitar-based — extending and elaborating upon the hip-hop influences of the previous record.”

 The guitar riffs are cut apart, spliced together, altered and warped. Vocal parts are clipped and distorted. The addition of 80s drum machines supplement the rock-solid, groove-centric natural drum beats.

Styles are mixed together as well; the garage rock riffs lead into soulful 60s grooves, soaring rock and roll descends into slinky R&B and resigned folk transitions to dub reggae.

Although seemingly a departure from the normal sound of previous albums by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Nguyen maintains that the album comes closer to capturing the band’s live sound.

She told Wonderland magazine, “In this record there was definitely a concerted effort to capture the energy of our live show. We did a lot more tracking live in the studio. I wanted to be raw and spontaneous and vocally more unhinged, which is more what I’m like live.”

Lyrically, Nguyen explores themes of abandonment, betrayal, anger and forgiveness, focused around her own conflicted feelings about her father. Her father left her family while Nguyen was a pre-teen.

She told NPR, “This record, you know a lot of that is me releasing whatever I have to and grieving in whatever way, and having a lot of anger and then trying to sort of move forward, to forgive. But then a few songs later, I could leave him for dead.”

On the opening track, “Astonished Man” Thao sings, “You don’t look for me how I will look for you.”

The band pushes into more experimental territory with the song “Departure.”

Starting out with subdued acoustic guitar and resigned recognition in the line, “We’re not born for departure, but we do learn to take it.”

A snatch of guitar and 80s drum machine that could easily form the backbone of a song by The xx, leads into an ominous synth bass for the chorus. The song keeps changing, never returning back to the same verse twice.

An attention-grabbing snare drum kick-starts “Nobody Dies,” an instantly catchy, summer-rock-festival-ready anthem.

This is the simplest, most accessible song on the record, which isn’t saying much — it is still packed with little details, like snatches of conversation, hand claps and a defiant non-solo of fuzz guitar warped by a granular delay.

The subdued R&B number “Guts” features a rich, bass-driven groove and a synth with just the right amount of distortion in the chorus. It pairs a sweet melody with the accusation, “Taught to be loyal, never shown loyalty” as well as the heartbreaking couplet, “You know, I’m so easy to find, you won’t come get your girl.”

The emotional centerpiece of the album is ballad “Millionaire”. The track is built around a quiet, fingerpicked acoustic guitar arpeggio and is probably the only song here that could still really be called folk. Nguyen’s voice drifts over distant drums and shimmering synths as she sings, “Oh Daddy, you broke me in a million pieces, that makes you a millionaire.”

“Meticulous Bird” is hip-hop in the vein of mid-90s Beck. It has a powerful message accompanied by inventive, glitchy drums and synths. “It’s about various abuses of power, sexual assault and abuse in particular,” Nguyen said in an interview with NPR. “I wanted whoever to be able to scream ‘I take my body back.’” This track is best at high volume.

With “A Man Alive,” Thao and the Get Down Stay Down have crafted a work that pushes the boundaries of rock music and has managed to make an album that sounds both deeply personal and universal.

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