Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
Empty Bottle; Sat 9
Thao Nguyen sings with a loose, carefree swagger, but listen closely to the singer-songwriter and you’ll find her indie-pop amblings aren’t as freewheeling as they sound. She’s a gifted lyricist with a keen ability to serve up playful metaphors in response to downtrodden circumstances (“Oh geography is gonna make a mess of me / My, my mouth a confessional cannon / Run away from me with the most reckless of abandon”). Her brittle voice and thoughtful lyrics have earned her comparisons to indie chanteuses like Feist and Cat Power, but that doesn’t do justice to Nguyen’s distinct style, not to mention her penchant for wordplay. She’s often far more clever than her peers—just check the name of her three-man backing band, the Get Down Stay Down.
On her Kill Rock Stars debut, We Brave Bee Stings and All, the northern Virginia native and San Francisco resident enlisted Laura Veirs collaborator and Decemberists producer Tucker Martine, achieving predictably polished results. She sounds like an old pro, veering between folk and indie rock with ease, complemented by banjo and organ flourishes. Nguyen also has a knack for churning out quirky, funky indie-pop jams reminiscent of Modest Mouse, as on “Bag of Hammers” and “Fear and Convenience.”
Beefed up by horn arrangements and hand-claps, We Brave has a distinct crossover quality. It’s not hard to imagine her prowess translating to a wider audience—or playing over the stereo at Starbucks. Nguyen is easy on the ears or, as she would say, soothing, “like a lick of ice cream.”