On their new album, Temple, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down are at their boldest yet. If you’ve been following the career of this American duo made up of Thao Nguyen and Adam Thompson, you’ll realize that’s a big statement; creativity and eclectic artistry has been a common thread running through every Thao & The Get Down Stay Down album. The band consistently brings a spirit of exploration to genre, song structure, and production. And yet they remain cohesive and accessible: a magical place between challenging and blissful that creates fertile soil for the listener to grow. They have mixed and mingled in a myriad of sounds, including the folk-pop We the Common, Know Better Learn Faster’s indie-rock, and hip-hop-influenced A Man Alive.
Temple is viscerally moving in a way that ranges from the spine-tingling and tear-inducing (Phenom and Marrow) to songs that give you no choice but to yell out loud at how impressive the songwriting is (How Could I). Except for the furious and raw Phenom, which shouts its message out loud, these songs have an understated power and defiance. This shines in the beat-forward elements and melodies that often go from wandering and trippy to catchy and uplifting in the same track (Lion on the Hunt, Disclaim). It feels extremely mature and confident for the first fully self-produced album in Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s discography. The penultimate I’ve Got Something is another highlight. It’s a minimalist track that grows in size until the layered vocals feel like a prayer or a mantra – something spiritual, before receding and drawing you back into yourself.
Defiance is likewise found in the lyrics, which have a degree of vulnerability and poeticism that deepens the listening experience. Thao’s lyrics explore alienation, shame, and acceptance with a love that is nurturing and raw. Speaking on this in a press release, Thao says, “I have divided myself into so many selves. I am nervous, but hopeful that in belonging to myself, I can still belong to my family, and my Vietnamese community, especially the elders. I believe that shame has made my work more general, when I’ve always wanted to be specific. This record is about me finally being specific. If you listen to my music, I want you to know who you are dealing with.” In regards to this new specificity, a few songs immediately stand out. Temple honours her mother’s journey as a Vietnamese refugee, and Marrow and Marauders are two love songs for her wife that coincide with Thao’s publicly coming out.
Temple captures the essence of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down in its purest form yet. It embodies what they’ve been doing since their 2008 debut by pushing sonic boundaries and refusing to become anything close to stagnant. It continues their growth with a distinct glow of authenticity and honesty. As its title suggests, Temple feels like a safe place to reflect and grow, a place filled with love and warmth.