By Alexa Salvato
Listening to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s newest release, A Man Alive, the listener is immediately struck by juxtaposition. The music is chirpy and fun, full of harmonious jingles resonating behind Thao’s voice, but the lyrics are deep and painful. From the bluesy track “Guts” to tUnE-yArDs-style discordant “Meticulous Bird” to central jam-tune “Nobody Dies,” an emotional backbone unites the whole album into one work of art.
The jarring discordance present throughout this album isn’t a surprise, as it was produced by Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-yArDs. A Man Alive draws comparisons to various other contemporary artists, of those, mostly women. The guitar riffs are very recent- St. Vincent, and the intimate first-person narrative is reminiscent of Courtney Barnett’s acclaimed 2015 release, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit. For a first-time listener like myself, the emotional intimacy of the words mixed with the catchiness of the tunes are what drew me in to listen to the album over and over again.
With her fourth release, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (aka Thao Nguyen) had deep feeling as her goal. As Pitchfork wrote in its March 7 review of the album, “[L]yrically, Nguyen is grappling with absence — specifically, that of her father, who abandoned her family at a young age.” Nowhere is this clearer than on the refrain of the album’s sixth track: “I’ve got the guts/ Don’t need my blood.” “Nobody Dies,” the track before, echoes the same sentiment of abandonment, this time about the concept of love: “I sent all of it and then you send it all back to me/…Oh my life, won’t you come for me?”
“Nobody Dies” strikes me as the single of this album (albeit a rather jarring one), the song with the most radio-friendly repetition, as much as “Holy Roller” was on We the Common (2013). Yet “Holy Roller” begins with the line, “I am a woman of leisure,”— on this album, Thao couldn’t give off less of a leisurely vibe.
The album ties up with “Endless Love,” a proclamation of the singer’s persistence for joy. “I’ve got an endless love no one can starve/ I’ve got an endless love,” and, “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna carve it all out of me,” echoes (endlessly) throughout the final song. It’s clear that despite the negativity and abandonment she’s dealt with for years, Thao’s inner love prevails.