Thao + the Get Down Stay Down

So, Thao + the Get Down Stay Down has a new album out, it came out … yesterday?  But it was available a week early on iTunes or some nonsense like that, and anyway, it is called Know Better Learn Faster and I have been listening to it all evening in hopes of telling you something awesome about it.  And, not surprisingly, I feel that like We Brave Bee Stings this is going to be an album that I have to live with for awhile and listen to for awhile, and like a good wine, it will get better as it ages.  I find this to be one of the marks of a great album, up there with finding a new favorite song every week.

The thing that impresses me the most about Thao with the GDSD is their craftsmanship.  After all, I’d say that making music is about perfecting both your art and your craft–these guys are perfecting both.  I guess it’s one of those general truths that to break the rules, you have to know them first.  I’m in love with the introduction to the album–the 30 second opening, “The Clap” (not the STD)–where it sounds like when a group of people who have no concept of key sing “Happy Birthday” and you want to laugh and cry at the same time because it sounds so ridiculous (or I guess you could call it “modal”).  Of course, after about 10 seconds of that, the band breaks into brilliance.  “If this is what you wanted, okay, okay”–well, yeah, thanks, I did want that.  They’ve developed into something very refined, each song being wonderfully orchestrated with enough edge in the sound to be rock’n’roll, and with Thao’s raw, boyish, sexy voice as the perfect complement.  “Burn You Up,” for instance, has enough of an interesting countermelody going on behind the vocals with keys and guitars and drums and other percussive instruments and such that it would work as an instrumental track.  However, what would they be without those vox?  Pretty damn cool music that I would probably still listen to…but not at all the same.  This stuff is just good.  I don’t know what else to say about it.  You should listen to it because it is legit GOOD, and how often do you hear/see/think/know things that are for real legit 10 out of 10 GOOD?  Probably never if you’re me and your ipod thing for the car broke and you have to flip between top-40 radio and oldies.

Highlights of the album:
“The Clap”–gosh it’s such a freaking fantastic intro!  I have nothing more to say about it.
“Cool Yourself”–I like the bridge, it’s pretty badass.
“When We Swam”–I don’t know, the “bring your hips to me” is funky and I like it.
“The Give”–the guitar parallels the voice…Thao w/the GDSD has a cool way of giving the guitar melodid lines.  It’s nice to hear something other than strumming chords.
“Oh. No.”–this is about as tender as I’ve ever heard Thao sound.  I like it alright.
“Fixed It”–what the crap is that intro?  It’s kind of cool.
Another general highlight–sassiness everywhere.

So that’s about it, you should buy the album, and probably you should also watch this funny video.

And this one:

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down in the studio from Kill Rock Stars on Vimeo.

We Should Be Reading Steinbeck

On Saturday night, I saw Thao with The Get Down Stay Down at the Boot in Norfolk, and it was way cool.  I have to be honest and tell you I did zero pre-show research so I had no idea who was opening for them.  Openers are such an interesting thing, there is so much hope and so much room for disappointment.

Thankfully, Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers (and Sister Suvi, but I’ll get to them later on) did not disappoint.  I would dub them as the up-and-coming artist to watch, as Hampton Roads hasn’t really caught on to the indie music scene, but Paste and Rolling Stone have already done that, and so I think we can all agree that the rich, dark folk rock band is already here.  Actually, this is another instance where I am beating myself up for not having listened to them earlier, and I’ll beat you up too if you don’t listen now.

The band’s twangy guitar and touch of tambourine and harmonica give their music a definite country roots feel (read Steinbeck as you listen!), but the depth of form and sound deny association with the country genre as we know it.  For instance, is that muted trumpet on “Bananafish Revolution”?  Despite the moodiness, which is actually quite therapeutic (for me at least, but maybe many things are therapeutic for me), it isn’t so dark–the catchy “Rising Sun” has been stuck in my head all day, and “Get the Fever Out” may be better described as playfully dark.  Samantha’s voice, I believe, is what makes this moodiness both therapeutic and contagious, with its strength undiminished by its tremors and lovely sighs.  I must say that at the show, one of my favorite things ever was watching that tiny girl dance around and play  harmonica and sing her guts out.  My new goal is to become best friends with her, stat!

Also, if you know anything about me, you know how much I appreciate lyrical genius.  If you don’t know this, read more of my reviews and you will soon find out!  Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers are brilliant songwriters; their lyrics truly are poetry.  “Traipsing Through The Aisles” contain some of my favorite of the bands’ lyrics– “even shadows sleep tonight/but a bit of orphaned light will/make its home on beds of nails and nightmares/when dust clouds o’er the sun/a web of confusion is by spiders crawling faster towards redemption.”  Also, not to be a lyric whore or anything, “Beloved We Have Expired”–  “accidents happen but you never did/i’m the forgotten change in your pocket/of the old winter coat/the newspapers stackin’, neat fold/oh, to be held again/to be spent or read/put aside again/That would be the greatest thing…”

Gahh it’s so beautiful!!!  Go listen. Buy the album.  Read the wonderful things Paste and Rolling Stone have to say.  Read Steinbeck.  Weep.  Oh also, here’s a video of “Traipsing Through The Aisles” for you.

We’ve gotta pedal to an hour south

We’re putting off our celebration of Malta music for another week because we have too many fun things we feel like talking about this week.  And we’ll talk about whatever we feel like we wanna talk about, Napoleon!

Because Eric’s St. Vincent post is both very relevant and very good, I hesitate to post tonight…however, instead of the Okkervil River review I had originally planned, I am going to review these lovely folks, who seem to fit a bit better with St. Vincent.  This way, if you have been listening to St. Vincent obsessively (and I know some people who have, although I am unfortunately not one of them), you can switch over to do a little Thao listening and it will flow beautifully, or at least pretty decently.

I loved Thao with The Get Down Stay Down at first listen (–“Bag of Hammers”–thanks for the mix, Liz!), and when I learned that Thao grew up in Falls Church, Willis attended William & Mary, and they both met Adam in Richmond, I pretty much peed my pants.  Thank you, Virginia, for doing something right in the music world.  I love you.

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down put out their third album We Brave Bee Stings and All about a year ago (I never aim to be on time with these reviews, fyi) and it is quite possibly the most simultaneously creative and accessible album I have heard in a very long time.  I’m not sure what contributes the most to this–Thao’s breathy, boyish vocals, the quirky lyrics, the not-so-random percussion shakes and punches, or the folky guitar twangs (is that a word?)–but it all works together to create a sound that will lure you in from first listen and first head sway.

My favorite song on this album is “Geography,” which has a fantastic groove (and that is not a word I use lightly, thank you very much) and hints at swing with its piano line.  You’ll find a similar swing on “Swimming Pools,” which is sort of the title song of the album, and on “We Go.”  If you’re a fan of Vampire Weekend or The Ruby Suns, you might dig the world-ish feel of “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” “Fear and Convenience,” and “Travel.”  On “Feet Asleep,” you’ll be ringing up the Rockettes so you don’t have to kick your feet by yourself.  What’s great, though, is that while to call these songs swing, world music, or what the hell do the Rockettes do anyway? would be ridiculous and let’s be honest, not seductive at all,  Thao and the blah blah long band name flavors their own style with these genres, giving you comfort in the familiar and ecstasy in the freshness.

Plus, lyrically, these guys are genius.  They come up with new ways to say old things, which is something we value greatly in our art but can rarely produce ourselves.

Basically, We Brave Bee Stings and All shows us another one of those marks of a great album…you know you’ve got an especially good album in your hands, your ears, your heart, and your soul when you don’t have to fiddle around with your iPod in the car trying to skip a song.  It’s just all so good!

We brave bee stings and all
We don’t dive, we cannonball
And we splash our eyes full of chemicals just so there’s none left for little girls!