Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

Hopefully Thao Nguyen won’t be offended by the suggestion that her new album deserves joint billing. Rarely does a release so clearly bear the fingerprints of its producer – in this case Merrill Garbus, the mastermind of Tune-Yards.

Like a Tune-Yards record, A Man Alive sounds like it’s emanating from blown-out speakers on a Caribbean roadside. This is not a bad thing, as Tune-Yards albums are wonderful and too far between. And Thao clearly knew what she was signing up for – she worked with Garbus on the 2011 collaboration Thao and Mirah, and brought some of those beats-forward ideas to her last release with the Get Down Stay Down, 2013’s We the Common.

A Man Alive frontloads the rhythm-heavy tracks. On the high point, “Nobody Dies,” the buzzing bass and sawing cellos leave enough open space for Thao’s insistent vocals and a dollop of the dime store revival vibe that’s become the Get Down Stay Down’s stock in trade.

Thao’s familiar sound increasingly nudges its way to the foreground as the album progresses, providing some of its highlights: the skittering “Departure,” the relatively unadorned “Millionaire.” The only true misstep is her ill-advised attempt at rapping on “Meticulous Bird.”

A Man Alive explores Thao’s fraught relationship with her estranged father. (She recently contributed an NPR piece about her grandmother’s decades-long silent standoff with her husband, so there’s a family legacy here.) The message is clear enough once you know to look for it, but the lyrics hardly bludgeon you.

Thao Nguyen remains one of the most unique voices on the indie scene, and Merrill Garbus is plenty special in her own right. Their respective sounds haven’t fully resolved how to coexist on A Man Alive, but there’s more than enough joy in listening to the two figuring out how to strike a balance.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
A Man Alive
[Ribbon Music]