Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Midday Show host Cheryl Waters, is “Know Better Learn Faster” by Thao with The Get Down Stay Down from the 2009 album of the same name on Kill Rock Stars.
Thao with The Get Down Stay Down is the San Francisco based trio of Thao Nguyen (guitar, vocals) Willis Thompson (Camp TigerCalw, Acousticore, Murphy’s Kids/percussion) and Adam Thompson (The OK Bird/bass, keys, and guitar). Thao met the Willis and Adam Thompson (no relation) in her home state of Virginia while completing degrees in Sociology and Women’s Studies at the much-lauded College of William & Mary. The band initially took on a fourth member and producer Frank Stewart (Durian, Verbal/lead guitar) to record their first album, 2005’s Like the Linen (on Trust Me). In the months following their debut, Nguyen was able to grab the attention of Laura Veirs and eventually recruit Seattle-based producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Veirs, Jim White, Sufjan Stevens) to work on their second full-length album — and first with Olympia’s own Kill Rock Stars. Released in early 2008, We Brave Bee Stings and All was a success in just about every sense of the word. Thao’s brand of catchy folk-infused melodica seemed to instantly tug at the ears of just about everyone, from critics to punkers, and the album sold like hot cakes and inched its way to #10 on emusic.com’s yearly list of groundbreaking albums.
While “Know Better Learn Faster,” the title track from Thao and The Get Down Stay Down’s forthcoming third studio release finds Nguyen and company on familiar ground stylistically (i.e. upbeat, bouncy folk), the track, and the album as a whole, is decidedly more mature in theme, density, and lyrical content. At times moving away from the band’s signature formula of happy sound/melancholy content, the band seems at peace with the full-steam ahead exploration of pain. “The album is named ‘Know Better Learn Faster’ because you can’t,” explains Thao. “By the time you realize you should, it’s too late. And I enjoy the predicament and the totally devastating, unfunny humor of that.”
It’s not difficult to hear the heartbreak flowing through this track — in Nguyen’s voice (clearly saddened, falling somewhere between desperation of Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons-era Blonde Redhead and the cathartic angst of What Would the Community Think-era Cat Power) as well as the fuller-sounding, brooding instrumentation, complete with beautifully mixed whistle and violin tracks, each coming from none other than Andrew Bird himself (also, members of Blitzen Trapper and Laura Veirs also make guest appearances). Touted as her first foray into bleakness (weird how everywhere you look it’s breakup album, breakup album!), Know Better Learn Faster is certainly something that needed to come out Thao. Seems like she’d like us to benefit from her misfortune or at least flip it all the bird with her. Sounds good to me (insert middle finger here).
By the way, Thao and company will be in the Northwest really soon, making a stop at Chop Suey on October 22. The tour itself starts in mid-October in Southern California, so head over to her MySpace page for the full list of dates. For now, here’s the video for the song that if you’ve been listening to KEXP at all over the past 18 months you’re bound to have heard (and immediately loved)!