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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down
We Brave Bee Stings And All
Kill Rock Stars

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


April 22, 2008
When it comes to entertainment, who cares about originality? I don't mean this in the "Justin-Timberlake-is-a-cheap-Micheal-Jackson-copy-but-is-entertaining-anyway" sort of way, but more concisely in the sense that, if in fact Justin Timberlake is a cheap knock-off, who cares if the record sounds good? If the artist is witty or clever enough to make a niche of their own within the framework of another artist, who really cares?

Well, purists may shout foul at the Killers or whatever band of the week is ripping off whatever old standby we all love and pledge our devotion to, but that's too easy (first of all, the Killers are a well killer singles band); when an artist comes across as a pastiche of sounds heard elsewhere, at what point do we raise our arms up and say: who cares, this is good?

This brings us to Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, who would rather ride the wheel than reinvent it. No one is going to bring home We Brave Bee Stings And All and be amazed by the sounds that come jumping out of their speakers. It's good singer-songwriter fare, but nothing groundbreaking. In truth, half of what I'm trying to avoid here is the annoying "Oh, she sings like Cat Power" comparison - Nguyen might have a similar timbre, but her songs exceed Chan Marshall's limited cleverness.

Another quip on Nguyen might be "Oh, her melodies lope like any other Northwestern band," perhaps citing the way the single "Bag of Hammers" bounces with the peppy mirth of a pre-fame Modest Mouse song, or the way any Built to Spill melody unravels. Hey: it's fair, but the context sort makes this point moot; Nguyen has her own way with song craft, and dismissing her work based on its sometimes obvious influences is, well, kind of short-sighted.

More relevant and more productive would be to point out Nguyen's strengths, namely that lyrically she's spot on. Her lyrics avoid the melodrama of her contemporaries: sure, Cat Power has songs like "Colors and the Kids" that can bring a grown man to his knees, but Marshall relies on that. She counts on her mercurial sadness dragging you along into a pit of despair. Although Cat Power albums can be emotionally powerful, they are rarely considered clever, and even rarer that any mention of cleverness refers to a lyrical couplet of sorts.

Nguyen is all over the place in that category, stepping into the mind of child, as if using the innate immaturity of a child to downplay the gravity of her situation. Missing a lover is taken back to high school where, almost winking at the need to portray romantic drama in song, she sings, "Geography is gonna make a mess of me." Nguyen equates cheating on a test to infidelity and eases back into what some might refer to as a mature expectation of disappointment, if only in the way she delivers her lines with nonchalance.

"Geography" is also a great place to start with her backing band, The Get Down Stay Down. The honky-tonk piano is just one of the accomplished techniques employed to send this song across sweetly - the band also snakes around low-end guitar leads with a fluid, intelligent rhythm section that never lets the songs bog down or drift into the adult-contemporary sound that it sometimes closely skirts. The songs on We Brave Bee Stings And All span from funky reggae-inflected folk (the aforementioned "Bag of Hammers"), to country soul ("Fast Asleep") and entertainingly covers all the ground in between.

The "down-in-the-trenches" interplay of the band may keep Nguyen from grabbing any VH1 "You Oughta Know" spots, but the disarming lack of polish and interesting trade offs make a strong batch of lyrics into a strong batch of songs. Originality aside, this record should have something entertaining for any audience (including the VH1 crowd).

Reviewed by Cory Tendering
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Cory Tendering

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