Thao with the Get Down Stay Down 

We Brave Bee Stings and All

The second album by Thao With the Get Down Stay Down is a stimulating study in contrasts. The music is well-crafted folk-rock/pop, with direct, alternately perky 'n' pensive melodies borne by shimmering guitars, tickling keys, snapping drums, wryly theatrical, New Orleans-tinged horns, and ringing percussion. If not for the slightly austere production, Stings could be the work of the Lovin' Spoonful or Can't Buy a Thrill-era Steely Dan. Thao Nguyen sings in an even-tempered, relaxed, somewhat bemused-sounding, plainspoken voice with slightly clipped phrasing — imagine a cross between Rickie Lee Jones and Beth Orton, or a down-home version of the Raincoats. Nguyen's lyrics, however, belie their relatively sanguine settings — the cheery chorus for "Fear and Convenience" goes Did he hurt you/in a new way? Woody Guthrie would've probably approved of the audacious appeal for respect that is "Swimming Pools": You've gotta push all the doubt to the side of your mouth/'cause 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. Her best-laid plans are tailored for disaster: I built a light tower for my town pillar/low flying aircraft are gonna kill her. (Jeez.) Seldom have such thorny lyrics been delivered in such an engaging, cozy context as Bee Stings and All.


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