The folk-tinged pop experiments of Thao Nguyen could not have come at a better time. In this post-Mumford and-Marling world, something is sorely missing from the glut of all things folk. On We the Common, Nguyen’s fourth album with The Get Down Stay Down, this much-needed spark comes in channeling an array of genres to create a raucous, rolling good time.
Predicting where exactly We the Common will go next is an impossibility because Thao and The Get Down Stay Down shuffle their styles and sounds. Sprightly stomper “Holy Roller” intricately interweaves banjo plucking warmth, surf rock fuzz, and a restless spirit that electrifies Nguyen’s irresistible melody. “Human Heart” chugs through Memphis with its vintage R&B riff and accompanying horns, while the apocalyptic level of discord on “Move” brings on the song’s chaotic finale. At the album’s midpoint is “Kindness Be Conceived”, a duet with the oh-so-eccentric Joanna Newsom in which the vocalists’ idiosyncrasies blend in harmony for a minimalist, country-fried strummer that warps deep into the past while representing new territory for both parties.
The heart of We the Common is still that of a folk record thanks to the fire of protest. Under the filthy blues riffs and in-your-face percussion of “City” is a rallying cry for both change and an embracing of community. On the anthemic title track, Nguyen draws inspiration from the plight of Valerie Bolden, a lifer met during her work with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Her raw exclamation “We die, we die, we die until we try” escalates towards a frolicking, catchy chorus that becomes less personal and more universal.
It’s certainly a more political-leaning album for the outfit, but one that sweats with fresh optimism.
Essential Tracks: ”We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)”, “Human Heart”, and “Holy Roller”