Album Spotlight: A Man Alive - Thao and the Get Down Stay Down

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down released their new album, a Man Alive, earlier this month. Having seen the band perform when they opened up for The Head and the Heart two years prior, I was excited to hear how their music had evolved. When they performed at the Pageant in St. Louis, I was pleased to see the versatility that lead vocalist and guitarist, Thao Nguyen, displayed in their set. Throughout the concert, Nguyen switched between banjo, guitar, steel guitar, mandolin and drum kit. Though her flexibility between multiple instruments made for an entertaining and unpredictable performance, I was most impressed at Nguyen's ability to steadily maintain her smooth vocals regardless of which instrument or rhythm she was engaging. A Man Alive, while adding new flavors to their music, also incorporated many of the same qualities that proved captivating.

Influencing their sound on A Man Alive was producer Merrrill Garbus, more colloquially known as tUnE-yArDs. Having transitioned from a blissful, harmonious indie-rock sound, A Man Alive introduced more complex vocal rhythms, experimental guitar work, use of looping pedals, and heavier percussive riffs incorporating cow bells, chimes and xylophone. Taking a break to hear Garbus' music, it is clear the influence she had on Thao and the Get Down Stay Down with their new album. A Man Alive, emphasizing the use of driving vocals and drumbeats as the foundation for many of their songs, introduced a more tribal and exotic vibe to their music that can also be felt in many of tUnE-yArD's works.

Though manifested in a different way, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down still incorporated the musical diversity that I had experienced years before. Though some of the instruments were difficult to discern with the more frequent use of distortion and electronic influence than before, many different sounds could be heard throughout the entire album. While most of the tracks were powerful and up-tempo, "Guts," the sixth track on the disc, proved my favorite for its more relaxing and cooler energy.  The song started with drums, keyboard and a baseline. Providing a bluesy foundation for the song, Nguyen entered a few bars later with softer, jazzier vocals reminiscent of her previous works. The song developed as the keyboard and ride cymbal acquired a consistent rhythm with the chords and the taps falling on each beat. The song concluded as Nguyen let out one last stream of high-pitched vocals before fading into the continuation of the rest of the album.  

Overall, I'm pleased to hear Thao and the Get Down Stay down has progressed in instrumentation and allowed the influence of other artists to alter their sound. Though I miss some of the old folk emphasis with mandolin and banjo, I understand the developmental and experimental processes that bands go through in order to keep their sound fresh and the musicians ever more diverse. Ultimately, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down crafted a uniquely intricate album to which no other musician could mimic. Thanks!

m.lonsway