Thao And The Get Down Stay Down’s latest project, Temple, comes to us an irresistibly eccentric alt-rock album packed with high-contrast sounds, skillful fusions of genre, and wonderfully written stories. Thao, the lead singer/songwriter, draws on multiple fractions of her life–including her experience with touring, her recent marriage, and her parent’s journey as refugees–to form an album that blends confidently quirky sounds with universally relatable human experiences.
The title track tells the story of a war-torn Vietnam from the perspective of the lead singer’s mother. Thao’s voice is complemented by catchy percussion as she sings “I lost my city in the light of day, thick smoke, helicopter blades.” A notably pop-oriented motif of synth and groovy bass springs through the track as well, hinting at the instrumentals to come. Further down the tracklist, this pop sensibility is skillfully blended with math-rock on “Lion on the Hunt” and later with post-punk on “Disclaim.” As the album progresses, Thao and band are clearly doubling down on the playfully offbeat attributes of the stand-out second track, “Phenom.” The group truly sounds like it’s having fun as it performs. However, with Thao taking on the role of producer for the first time in the band’s discography alongside Adam Thompson, the tracks can feel a bit one-dimensional.
Temple’s idiosyncrasies are tied together by Thao’s distinctive voice and a cohesive instrumental language. Weaker points, such as “I’ve Got Something,” where the lyrics and instrumentation feel like placeholders in wait for further development, are relatively unobtrusive given the album’s tendency to succeed. “Rational Animal,” for example, more than makes up for the aforementioned track with a sticky groove and an overall feeling of coolness. This feeling is present throughout much of the album–a sense of confidence and swag even when the lyrics suggest sensitive origin stories. The title track is a shining example of this agreement to coexist between melancholic lyrics and lively sounds; “I have earned this sorrow, mine to keep,” Thao sings in the midst of bright dashes of synth. She is unafraid to combine “heavyhearted” lyrics and “playful” musicality–a description found in the band’s Spotify bio that is resonant when listening to this LP.
Closing with “Marrow,” Thao sings “I’ve got grief in my marrow, will you marry me still?” It’s a line that’s shouted by a chorus of voices as the song ends and one that suggests a personal experience generalized so that the listener can relate. This element of generalization seems very intentional throughout Temple; in describing the title track on her Instagram, Thao wrote: “This song is a small effort in service of a larger hope: that in taking care to communicate a person’s life, you help foster respect for people’s lives.” It’s easy to understand the greater story Thao and her band are weaving through each track after getting this look into the singer’s thought process. Temple is, arguably, about greater narratives told through smaller, more personal stories. And though this worthy effort is sometimes muddled by underwhelming entries, Thao And The Get Down Stay Down certainly do it justice through most of their newest album.