The opening of We The Common, might fool you. The title track of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down’s latest record is deceptively normal and features the irresistible hallmarks of modern folk-pop.
But Thao Nguyen does folk-pop with an edgy weirdness. That’s clear by the second song, “City,” as distorted guitar riffs sneak up from behind. In fact, a lot instrumental moments on We The Common pop up as unexpected punctuation. “Move,” for instance” is spotted with rattling percussion or short horn phrases.
The album holds together because it maintains a distinctive Get Down Stay Down sound, despite big stylistic leaps from song to song. Folksy banjos trade places in the foreground with grungy electric guitars. The bouncy “The Feeling Kind” ends with a jazzy, muted trumpet solo worthy of New Orleans’ French Quarter. “Clouds For Brains” is dark and trudging with an impossibly low bass line, and Nguyen sleepily intones “we go on, we go on, we go on.”
It’s those slower, darker moments on We The Common that fall flat. The uptempo, playful songs work much better, though “Kindness Be Conceived” toes a fine line between delightfully quirky and annoying. Its harmony of breathy and nasally vocals sound like a clarinet and oboe duet. But some quirkiness goes over well because it doesn’t feel forced. The instrumental cacophony on “Move” sounds just as earnest as the folk simplicity of “We The Common.”
“Age of Ice” serves as a perfect send-off, with its retro blues-ballad feel that bursts into grand singalong moments, littered with slightly off clambering on the piano or yelping from horns. It feels like a finale in a way that says, “wasn’t that fun?” And you have to say yes.