Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: Temple (Ribbon Music) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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May 28, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

As someone who is clearly well connected with her thoughts, there’s no doubt that Thao Nguyen will sense the irony surrounding the release of her band’s fifth album, Temple. At a time where it’s verboten to do so, Nguyen decides it’s time to get up close and personal with her listeners. And though she weaves more of herself throughout the album’s 10 songs, Nguyen reveals the most on the closer, “Marrow.” “Had to learn what truth does,” she declares on a song that primarily focuses on the relationship with her girlfriend who she recently married, but also serves as something of a manifesto to tell it like it is. Frankly, Nguyen has always been a purveyor of truths, just maybe not the openly personal ones.

Lest you be concerned that Temple plays out as a series of introspective reflections, it also grooves incredibly hard. The manic polyrhythms that have been a hallmark of Nguyen’s work here give way to windshield rattling bass notes and songs that morph and meander more than they herk and jerk. Plenty of energy pulses through Temple, but there is also a more relaxed balance of an artist comfortable in her own skin. Look no further than the barn burner of the opening title track that starts with a surf guitar intro worthy of Dick Dale and gives way to spongy beats in a homage to Nguyen’s mother’s Vietnamese upbringing. You’ll have to forgive yourself for shaking your ass to wartime images of “thick smoke, helicopter blades.” Then you’re barely given a breath before the melody of the “Batman Theme” crashes into the verse cadence of “I Am the Walrus” on the following “Phenom.” The two songs make for a “Biff! Pow!” worthy opening salvo.

Nguyen shows a softer side as well, but the sonics never disappoint. The slinky sashay of “Pure Cinema” is spiked with infectious synth modulations as it weaves its way out of “what fear has done.” The quietest track, “Marauders,” is also one of the most compelling as Nguyen turns the lens on herself. It doesn’t hurt that the turn of phrase “daughters of marauders are just so hard to please” is up there with her best. Completing the revelatory trio of songs in the middle of the album, the pace quickens considerably to match the race to a loved one’s deathbed on “How Could I.”

Temple is the first album that Nguyen produced herself, alongside long-time bandmate Adam Thompson. Her own touch serves to let her personality shine through all the more. The album’s contrasting beats and styles meld so easily with Nguyen’s illuminating lyrics due to her newfound confidence. To up the ante she employed Mikaelin “Blue” Bluespruce (Solange, Blood Orange) to handle the mixing, which brings layers of depth even in the quietest moments. Nguyen has always had a handle on taking atypical musical paths and somehow turning them into mellifluous passages. The combination you may not have seen coming though is the confessional mixed with a prevailing sense of calm, that somehow sounds best when Temple is cranked to the rafters. (

Author rating: 8/10

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