Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
Saintseneca, Little Scream
Fri, April 15
Doors: 8:00 pm9:30 Club
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - (Set time: 10:20 PM)
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down—the San Francisco−based band fronted by singer and songwriter Thao Nguyen—released their fourth album, A Man Alive, on March 4, 2016. Following the critical success of We The Common (2013), which was largely inspired by Thao’s volunteer work with the California Coalition for Women’s Prisoners, A Man Alive is an evolution in both subject matter and sound. Thao says: “I wanted A Man Alive to be beat- and bass-driven—rather than guitar-based—extending and elaborating upon the hip-hop influences of the previous record. A Man Alive is more instrumental, more riff- and loop-centric, and has more manipulated sounds.” The Get Down Stay Down are at their best on this record, and Thao herself experimented with programming drumbeats for several tracks, although live drums are also played on every song.
Mostly recorded at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco, A Man Alive was produced by Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards. Collaborating with Garbus, who is a close personal friend, allowed Thao to achieve the sound she had been striving for on previous releases. “Looking back,” she says, “I was less sure of what I wanted. With this record I had clearer vision and aspirations. I wanted emotion. I wanted power. I wanted beats. Merrill’s priority was that I take songs and ideas and run with them; she pushed us all over the place. She carved out time and space for us to experiment at will and fostered a very supportive, creative environment. Everyone was compelled to go beyond what they were comfortable doing. Musician-wise we kept it tight knit because the songs were so personal and vulnerable, and it was such an intense process, I only wanted those who know me well.”
A Man Alive finds Thao exploring darker and more personal territory than in her earlier songwriting. She grew up in Northern Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, DC. When Thao was young, her father left the family. She helped out in her mother’s laundromat as a teenager, sitting at the counter with a guitar, making change for customers, working on her first songs, and playing at open mics in the evenings. Her father drifted in and out of their lives.
“The record is essentially about my relationship with my dad, its trajectory. It’s a document of my life in conjunction with his, even though we’ve always been leading our lives away from each other. Some are optimistic and forgiving, some are the opposite. There are songs from his perspective: I imagined what it would be like to have kids and choose to exist without them, or feel like you have to save them from yourself. I realized there was this relationship that I never really talk about, realized it’s defined so much of me. So it was a point of reckoning. The record wrote itself. Painstakingly, of course.”
The emotional center of A Man Alive is the gorgeous, plaintive “Millionaire,” a song about a wayward father. While the song could have ended up as a folk ballad, its instrumentation and atmosphere is of a piece with the rest of the album, pushed along by heavily reverbed synthesizer, a simple guitar riff, and subdued drums and bass. “That’s a sad fucking song,” Thao said. “I remember walking out of the vocal booth, and I saw Merrill tearing up. It’s uncompromisingly sad, which I don’t traffic well in. It took a lot.”
Much of A Man Alive is vibrant and danceable—including standout tracks such as “Astonished Man,” “Slash/Burn,” “Nobody Dies,” and “Meticulous Bird”—and the juxtaposition of that exuberance with the dark themes explored in the lyrics is one of the album’s great achievements. The songs are often punctuated by handclaps, sing-along choruses, and ass-shaking beats. While these songs come from a deeply personal origin, they have such an accessible quality that it is easy to imagine an engaged and participatory live audience. “I suspect that’s always been my motive,” Thao says, “but this is the most actualized that it’s ever been. I wanted to make a record that was very introspective and personal, but it would also seek to communicate. And we would have fun performing it—not just fun, but I wanted a kind of crazy, rabid, animal energy. That’s my favorite thing about performing—you can tap into this frenzy. We want people to dance and feel. And I want to do that every night, too.”
A Man Alive is undoubtedly a new career highlight for Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. The album presents a fiercely original group sound that is rife with experimentation and playfulness. It demonstrates Thao’s development as a songwriter. And it achieves that most elusive quality in music—to create an album of songs that are dark yet buoyant, tragic yet redemptive, personal yet inclusive.
Saintseneca - (Set time: 9:15 PM)
At the intriguing intersection of metaphysics and rock and roll, you will find the new Saintseneca album Such Things. While the thematic concerns of the record address the very nature of human consciousness, the decidedly hook-centric sound serves as a delightfully visceral counterpoint, infusing the band's unique melding of folk, punk and epic rock with a very earthly sense of groove. At its core, Such Things is entirely accessible and undeniably powerful, unquestionably Saintseneca's most cohesive, catchy output, and a work that cements the band's singer songwriter Zac Little's status as one of modern indie music's most thoughtful and talented artists.
Bolstering the more streamlined "pop" compositions is a raucous and fuzzed out sonic palette that beautifully accentuates the record's power of engagement."When we were getting ready to record with Mike (Mogis of Bright Eyes), I told him I wanted the songs to be filtered through sixties psychedelic pop," Little explains. "Not like a throwback record, because I didn't write those type of songs. What we wanted were modern songs that sounded like a band had gone back in time to record them."
Since its origin in 2007 as an teenage bluegrass outfit in Appalachian Ohio, then its growth to a large, multi-instrumental live rock and folk collective whose onstage experiments would find their way to tape on 2011's Last, and then the more traditional approach of writing and recording in making Dark Arc, Saintseneca has largely been Little's machine. A meticulous, tireless craftsman, he began writing for Such Things by demoing songs composed of anywhere from two to one-hundred-and-fifty tracks, which he then shared with his bandmates to serve as reference points for their own invented parts.
"Even though it might seem like this singular vision, at the core my creative strategy for the band is one that inherently involves other people. I think the best work I'll make involves working that way. Ultimately, by involving other people that are really talented and that I admire, we'll come up with something that will transcend what any individual would be capable of. To me that's the ultimate creative goal; to have that element of spontaneity and the culmination of multiple minds."
Little Scream - (Set time: 8:30 PM)
Little Scream says she began conceiving of Cult Following while visiting a friend in a small intentional community in northern Brazil that was on the verge of becoming a cult. “People were running around reading auras, interpreting each other’s dreams, and ‘living on light’ instead of eating—which was as compelling as it was absurd. I became very aware of the entropy of belief. You could feel the magnetism of ideas take shape and pull people into their center like a black hole… a thing so filled with light that its own gravity means that none of it can escape.”
That experience laid the groundwork for Cult Following, a lush, expansive, retro-leaning gem that straddles intimate fragility with bombastic dancefloor-ready songs. Listening to it is like reading an epic novella—part fairy tale, part ecstasy, and part human folly. Right from the start, you know you’ve entered a universe with its own rules—dazzling, dark, and whimsical, not unlike Willy Wonka’s gated factory. From the candy-filled ballroom of “Love as a Weapon” (which is as accessible as it is emotionally complex), you are invited onto the comforting ship of the warm ballad “Evan,” only to find that “the waves are falling/they’re falling in faster, and the ship has no master… here comes disaster!” When the shipwreck subsides, you find yourself in the dark depths of the song “Wishing Well,” where Mary Margaret O’Hara makes a stunning, subtle vocal appearance. Mary Margaret is one of several guests to appear on this record, along with Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, and Kyp Malone. Encountering them is not unlike having cameo stars within a film, but the world they inhabit is entirely Little Scream’s, and her voice acts as a tour guide through lush and sometimes terrifying sonic landscapes carefully constructed with her creative partner, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry.
Cult Following is a record that deserves to be listened to from start to finish, with each song having been constructed to meld seamlessly into the next. There may be those who listen only to the record’s obvious catchy hit, but they would be missing out on the depth of stunners like “Wishing Well” and “Someone Will Notice.” Like a classic novella, you must pass through all of the record’s stages to fully experience a triumphant hero’s journey.
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001