When Thao Nguyen (QRO interview) burst onto the scene with her backing band, The Get Down, Stay Down, in We Brave Bee Stings and All (QRO review), she was instantly charming with cheery ditties about adult subjects. However, that instant charm also limited her in follow-up Know Better Learn Faster (QRO review). But then Thao teamed up with Mirah for Thao + Mirah (QRO review), and broke her own ceiling. Now back with The Get Down, Stay Down, Thao keeps up her expanded horizons.
That being said, the title track & opener to We the Common is just the kind of catchy up-down twang-trot that made Thao so charming in the first place – and this time ‘round, she leavens that with reaches for more. Of course, the first reach in the following “City” is the worst on the record, combining guitar rock and off-kilter beats, neither of which are anywhere near her strengths. But there are better mixes of old and new Thao in the finger-plucking “Holy Roller”, backwoods folk “Kindness Be Conceived”, slyer “Every Body”, and grittier “Move”. Thao even shows hints of songstresses you never would have compared her to before, like the St. Vincent (QRO spotlight on)-ish “We Don’t Call”, or bringing some of the attitude of Alison Mosshart (of The Kills – QRO live review) to “Move”. And there’s still the Thao cheer from “Common” to closer “Age of Ice”.
Thao Nguyen hasn’t completely squared the circle she found herself in after Bee Stings – this is still a Thao record, through-and-through. But she’s expanding her circle.