Spin - "It's ironic that such a painful backstory has birthed this crop of relatively cheerful-sounding -- not to mention industrious, and never dull -- tracks..."
Paste (magazine) - "'Hand To God' culminates an honest, tempered and spectacular diatribe pointed at the pain that has shaped Thao. A MAN ALIVE is an endearing listen and has all of the elements of a complete work..."
Recording information: Different Fur Studios, San Francisco, CA; Tiny Telephone, San Francisco, CA.
Photographer: Maria Kanevskaya.
Having constructed prior albums with the likes of Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, Camera Obscura) and John Congleton (St. Vincent, FFS), bandleader Thao Nguyen enlisted longtime side project collaborator Merrill Garbus to produce her band's fourth LP, A Man Alive. A match that sounds as good on the final product as it does on paper, Garbus brings the musical moxie associated with her tUnE-yArDs outfit and reinforces that same quality in Thao & the Get Down Stay Down for an especially muscular outing. The opening track, "Astonished Man," hits big with funky riffs and the intimidating promise "You don't look for me how I will look for you." An album mostly about abandonment ("We are not born for departure, but we do learn to take it"), specifically inspired by Nguyen's relationship with her father, underlying indignation creeps through the vocals even when singing about forgiveness, and is always present in the production. Rumbling bass and gritty drum and guitar tones continue on "Slash/Burn," which also offers colorful, trilled accents woven through looped background vocals. Punctuated by Nguyen's uniquely serrated vocals, the energy seems to peak with the infectious stomp-along "Nobody Dies" before branching into slinky R&B and, later, hip-hop that would be unexpected but for the sheer musical chutzpah of the record as a whole. One such standout is "Meticulous Bird," a ferocious exhibit of voluble rap ("You had a dalliance with valiance, a violence to vow against.") that turns the dial back up to ten with a booming groove and alternately controlled and unrestrained vocals. Creative songcraft and catching melodies are also in full force here, as expected by this point from Nguyen, though the strongest impact of the A Man Alive may be the temerity of its sound -- thankfully, there's no need to separate the two. Even at 12 tracks, the album will leave many wanting more (and more Nguyen-Garbus collabs). ~ Marcy Donelson