Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: We the Common
Like your 20’s or a long and spontaneous roadtrip, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s new album arrives at some serendipitous highs, but teeters off into unexpectedly ugly places in others.
With its laid-back delivery teetering above banjos cut to sweeps of strings, chorus and transcendent glory, “We the Common” is the unquestionable highlight on the album. And with its grand mix of anxious vocals, jangly banjo and joyous chorus, is likely one of the best songs of the year.
Formed in Falls Church, Virginia and now getting their kicks in San Fran, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down are an indie alternative Americana outfit with a consistent lineup of Thao Nguyen (vocals, guitar) and Adam Thompson (vocals, bass guitar, keyboard). On We the Common, they are joined by a veritable cornucopia of instruments and sounds.
Born out of collaborations with tUnE-yArDs and Mirah as well as a general restlessness of mind, the album tends toward a search for inspiration rather than actual transcendence. Maybe it’s her child-like nursery rhyme voice that alternates between tantrum and gleeful play, but the lesser songs on the album rarely settle anywhere. Though the varied instrumentation is consistently driving and clear, Thao’s voice sounds shaky and uncertain (she draws comparisons to Joanna Newsom). Sometimes she hovers, but on the album’s great songs, she soars.
A sign of the digital eclecticism we live in, though the band sometimes hits a sweet spot, many of the songs are all colors, no canvas. Like a traveler checking off countries they have briefly visited, on “Holy Roller,” Thao sings, “I’m looking for something else to see.” With lines like, “long live the end of a life I believe/I’ve got to get devoted,” We the Common, comes from and paints a picture of a place all too familiar with gen-Yers: a place of restless uncertainty.
Even if Thao’s voice sounds aimless on some songs, others like “Kindness Be Conceived” are a blessing for their relevance and simplicity. The music paints a faithful landscape of Americana: it sounds like a sunrise over the open road and tells stories of people waking up, having coffee and seeking something, like the land, larger than themselves.