Not since the Riot Grrl movement has there likely been a better time for alternative female singer-songwriters. With the likes of Feist, M.I.A., Lily Allen, and (on a smaller scale — for now), St. Vincent and Kate Nash blowing doors off packed venues, women are reclaiming a fair share of the spotlight. The trainwrecks in the female mainstream spotlight (Britney, Amy Winehouse, et al.) can only help, making the intelligent, grounded women named above seem even better by comparison. Thank goodness, then, that Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down offer their stunning full-length, We Brave Bee Stings and All, under these conditions — it might actually receive the attention it deserves.
“Beat (Health, Life and Fired)” is an ideal opener. It perfectly sets the stage for everything that follows: perky songs with a crisp, sharp, tinny timbre, and a refreshing vivacity. Nguyen has been compared to Laura Veirs and Cat Power, but she’s got infinitely more spunk. She uses a similar vocal technique at times — she’s a fan of those high, quick notes and syllables — but there’s something incredibly youthful about Nguyen’s voice, especially when combined with her frankness and carefree nature. Handclaps, “ohh”s and “ahh”s are present throughout, which lend to its breezy effect.
There’s nothing juvenile about We Brave Bee Stings and All, however, with its impressively crafted melodies and textures. The pace and attitude don’t make any drastic changes, yet the album never gets tiring or repetitive. Quite the opposite happens, as most of the songs last a mere 2-3 minutes — the album clocks in at half an hour, which is short for an EP anymore, let alone an 11-song LP.
The lyrical content also belies the album’s enthusiastic aesthetics. As a whole, the album seems to tell the story of a rocky relationship. “Beat (Health, Life and Fired)” announces the problem (“you’re never gonna love me like I need”), and most of the songs seem to chronicle different relationship-based conflicts, particularly “Geography” (“you are a cheater / you are fire-proof / I am a smokey room / I am a ladder up to your bedroom”), “Yes, Soon and Soon” (“I am going away / but not from you / I have found the difference / between the two”) and “Travel” (“darlin’ did you hate the way I made you travel?”). It all ends on an optimistic note when she declares, “we are not so when we go,” in “We Go.”
As an album that’s not only cohesive but fun, We Brave Bee Stings and All is sure to get Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down all kinds of attention, and for all the right reasons. Make sure to give her some of yours.
We Brave Bee Stings and All is out January 29th on Kill Rock Stars.