San Francisco's Vietnamese-American vocalist and guitarist Thao Nguyen wed
ordinary girl's vocals and gentle eclecticism on Like The Linen (2005).
It is actually two albums in one. One album consists of simple sparse intimate
songs such as the soothing waltzing lullaby Hills.
The other album is a harder album that features
catchy melodies coupled with oblique blues-rock (Gorgeous Thing and Turn Century)
and lively numbers in vintage styles (notably the bouncing jugband shuffle What About, which is the album's standout, but also
the limping country lament Chivalry and the breezy jazzy swinging
The arrangements made the difference on
We Brave Bee Stings And All (Kill Rock Stars, 2008), credited to just her first name,
a more complex affair both emotionally and musically.
The music for her meditations and confessions have become aggressive and
tortuous (Beat, Fear And Convenience).
More importantly, her skills in revisiting and hijacking styles of the past
is now benefiting from a professional backing band.
This allows her personal cabaret to incorporate jazz ballads
(both the cocktail-lounge variety, as in Geography, and the
brass-band variety, as in Feet Asleep,
bluegrass music (Swimming Pools, the album's standout),
and transfigured blues (Violet, Big Kid Table).
Yes So And And So On
could be a catchy melody of the 1960s, if it weren't so criminally slowed down,
and Travel sounds like a faithful tribute to the
Band's majestic soul-rock.
The melancholy confessional concept
Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars, 2009),
credited to Thao With The Get Down Stay Down,
explored the darker side of her psyche with both larger and smaller sonic
When We Swam, that evokes the 1960s of the dance crazes, shows that
her skills at transforming classic styles are intact.
The jumping blues novelty Cool Yourself
(reminiscent of Italian disco acts such as Ricchi E Poveri)
also unveils the ironic side of her persona.
Generally speaking, she seems to try a bit too hard, like in the
punkish Body, but the result is that too many songs remain at the stage
of harmless shuffles (Trouble Was For the best one).
There are great melodies like the one in Good Bye Good Luck that get
The most original moment comes with Easy, a sort of funk Caribbean
dance reminiscent of the new wave of the 1970s that complements
Cool Yourself and When We Swam.
She sounds a lot more sincere in the slow whispered lament Oh No with
a much more subdued instrumental accompaniment; but the trend seems to be
towards the disco.
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