By Danielle Shields
February 04, 2013
We The Common is the third full-length studio album by the indie-folk band Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. This smooth twelve-song compilation is one to be listened to in its entity; it offers a raw and creative pursuit into the themes of community, life and death. The musical direction of the California-based band has changed since their 2009 record, Know Better Learn Faster, with Thao Nguyen’s song writing becoming more focused on embracing ordinary life, as opposed to being self-analytical.
Thao has been personally inspired by her time spent with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. During her volunteering she met prisoner Valerie Bolden, who the opening song, ‘We The Common’, is dedicated to. This track, alongside the second song from the record, ‘City’, underscores this new community-drive spirit. The former has an electric vibe, captured by an infectious chorus made up solely from relentless vocal sound effects instead of lyrics. The first repetition of the chorus even has birds tweeting in the background which feels as though it could have been recorded in the open fields. It could almost be linked to Eliza Doolittle’s tweeting during the course of all of her tracks, although Thao’s version feels more organic. ‘City’ is the more sinister twin of the two; introduced by an electric guitar it feels reminiscent of old Red Hot Chili Peppers’ tunes with Thao’s deep voice sounding as though it has been filtered through a disoriented megaphone.
What you will remember most about this album is Thao’s unique infectious voice. It’s not processed and packaged; it’s raw with pure emotion. There is a lot of creativity flowing through the record and experimentation with different instruments. There are distinct elements of Jazz in both comparable songs, ‘The Feeling Kind’ and ‘We Don’t Call’. The more upbeat, ‘The Feeling Kind’ displays how acoustic melodies can be mixed with other instruments instead of remaining explicitly separate, with a hypnotic riff of the at the end. Similarly, ‘We Don’t Call’ is one of the best sounds on the record, with the aforesaid trumpet at the beginning playing a constant one beat rhythm.
The catchiest song on the record is the one that Thao first wrote for the album, ‘Holy Roller’. This pop tune is again no amateur in the experimentation department, with the introduction sounding like ‘Family Affair’ by R&B singer, Mary J. Blige. The only collaboration on the record takes place with American harpist, Joanna Newsom, for ‘Kindness Be Conceived’. Their unique voices blend well together for this track and the acoustic nature is akin to a Kimya Dawson or a Belle & Sebastian song.
The first half of the album is a hooky array more obsessed with living than dying, but the second half loses its wit. Despite this, ‘Move’ is an addictive track with a vocal effect chorus in a climax that has Thao passionately repeat “I want to be free”, whilst what can only be described as a disjointed school orchestra, plays in the background. On ‘Clouds For Brains’ it seems as though the band have literally gone brain dead with a slow melody eventually fading out into the emptiness, until ‘Human Heart’ starts blaring out and you’re reminded why We The Common is a special album.