Sometimes people aren’t too clever for their own good. Take Thao Nguyen, the latest cool kid to concoct a unique indie-rock sensibility. Together with her backing trio known as the Get Down Stay Down, Thao fashioned a breakthrough record last year, entitled “We Brave Bee Stings And All,” that brilliantly hop-scotched between in-the-moment childhood narratives and wizened observations. There were licks of banjo and ukulele embedded in the whoosh of the melodies (which often arrive like a dynamic breeze), but you never regard the music as the least bit country: It’s too quirky and self-aware.
This month, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down released “Know Better Learn Faster,” and their maturation has fattened the music (the title track, from its soukous-tinged guitar intro onward, is actually plush) and deepened the vocals. More importantly, it has yielded a concept album about heartbreak with enough nuance to provide a misery-loves-company succor for despair and a defiant veneer of soldiering hedonism. Thao herself nails the ambiance with the comment, “sad people dance too.”
Here is some acoustically limited concert footage of the group playing the title tune to “Know Better” just last week. Here is a live rendition of “Bag Of Hammers,” the single from the “Bee Stings” album. Here they are doing “Beat (Health Life and Fire)” from the same record.
As a great bonus, the Portland Cello Project is part of Thao’s latest tour, which will stop tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center. Composed of anywhere from four to eight cellists, the group revels in idiosyncratic collaborations (with Portland musicians such as John Brophy and Justin Power as well as Thao) and offbeat numbers such as the “Star Wars Theme,” as seen here.
No doubt they will be playing songs from their June release, “The Thao and Justin Power Sessions,” some of which can be previewed here on their MySpace page.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, with the Portland Cello Project and David Schultz and Skyline, at the Cedar Cultural Center, tonight, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., $15.