“An Introduction To…” is our new series where we detail one of our favorite artists by guiding you through their discographies.
(Check out Emily’s playlist above for some of her favorite songs by Thao as you read along!)
Who she is: Thao Nguyen
What she does: Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist—including guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano, bass, loops, drums/percussion. She has also been known to beatbox on the side.
Recommended if you Like: St. Vincent, Cat Power, Tune-Yards, Tegan and Sara, Dirty Projectors and Jenny Lewis / Rilo Kiley
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive (2016)
This art pop/rock album was produced by Thao’s good friend and collaborator Merrill Garbus (tune-yards). A Man Alive is Thao’s most personal work to date, as it deals with her father leaving her family when she was a child. The album blends emotional subject matter (“Millionaire” and “Meticulous Bird”) with songs that are more sonically upbeat (“Slash/Burn”). A Man Alive features some of Thao’s most expressive guitar playing (“Guts”) and beat-driven work.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We the Common (2013)
We the Common is a folk-leaning indie rock album produced by John Congleton, who has produced albums by St. Vincent and Angel Olsen, among others. The album is full of catchy, energetic jams and features some of Thao’s biggest hits—“Holy Roller,” “We the Common (For Valerie Bolden),” and “The Feeling Kind”—as well as Joanna Newsom’s harp and vocals on “Kindness Be Conceived.” Thao’s voice, guitar, banjo and mandolin shine alongside explosive horn sections and strings. One of my favorite Thao jams, “Move,” also appears on this release.
Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah (2011)
Thao & Mirah is a collaborative art pop album Thao recorded with the indie singer-songwriter Mirah. This album was also produced by Merrill Garbus who is featured on the opening track “Eleven.” Thao and Mirah take turns on lead vocals throughout the album. “Teeth” is a notable Thao-centered song, “Rubies and Rocks” is a notable Mirah-centered song, and “How Dare You” is a more vocally balanced collaboration between the two.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Know Better Learn Faster (2009)
This indie rock/folk pop album features Andrew Bird’s signature violin and whistling on the title track. Thematically, the album explores a romantic relationship in flux—full of uncertainty and desire. Other album highlights include the toe-tapping “Cool Yourself,” the raspy pleading of “When We Swam,” and the danceable closer “Easy.” The song “When We Swam” has one of the most endearing pick-up lines I’ve heard used in a song with the refrain “bring your hips to me.”
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings and All (2008)
This folk and jazz-inspired indie rock album was produced by Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse). We Brave Bee Stings and All showcases brass sections and a more relaxed vocal style from Thao, in addition to her banjo, guitar and piano. Notable tracks include “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)” as well as “Geography” and Thao’s beatboxing skills on “Bag of Hammers.” The sweet, sincere song “Violet” is also a personal favorite of mine.
Apart from the albums discussed above, Thao has also released a debut solo album Like the Linen (2005) and a collaborative album with The Portland Cello Project titled The Thao & Justin Power Sessions (2009). Additionally, she released the EP The Feeling Kind (2013)—a set of songs to accompany We the Common—which includes covers of “Brand New Key,” “With a Girl Like You,” and “You Can Have It All.” Thao brings an infectious energy to her live shows and I highly recommend catching her perform if you get the chance!