Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

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Like Cat Power, to whom she's often compared, San Franciscan songbird Thao Nguyen evolved over time from indie folk gal-with-guitar and sparse (if any) accompaniment to full-blown bandleader. On her second outing for Kill Rock Stars -- whose former bossman Slim Moon was so taken with Nguyen's talent he's become her manager -- Nguyen pretty much picks up where she left off last time in terms of presenting a sound that fully incorporates her band, the Get Down Stay Down, but this is the first album to be credited to the collective rather than just Nguyen, which is probably not insignificant. Something else that hasn't changed is Nguyen's ability to wring peppy tunes from emotional angst. A not so subtle clue can be taken from the album cover, where Thao and pals merrily puncture a party piƱata that looks like a giant human heart. If anything, the dichotomy between the buoyancy of the arrangements and the brokenheartedness of the lyrics is more pronounced than ever, especially on the post-breakup blues title tune, whose tagline Thao intones repeatedly over a rapid-fire rhythm as if she's trying to hypnotize herself into making better romantic decisions in the future. For the sake of her art, those who have been listening long enough to care are bound to hope that doesn't happen. For their part, the Get Down Stay Down provide plenty of propulsion as they throb, bob, and weave their way through Nguyen's songs, giving them a lot more rhythmic subtlety than your average indie rockers. Occasionally, Nguyen's folkie roots still show through, but only for scant moments, before the plaintive guitar arpeggios are absorbed into the Get Down Stay Down's visceral swoop. That said, the production (a return engagement from Tucker Martine) remains relatively economical throughout, leaving plenty of room for Thao's distinctive warble/weep to unfold its tales of passion spent and soured.

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