‘A Man Alive’ is the fourth album from Thao Nguyen with her project The Get Down Stay Down (she also records as half of Thao & Mirah) and is one of the most personal to date. A large amount the lyrics deal with absence specifcally her father’s absence. These lyrics are a stark contrast to the albums thrashy party music. There is a bittersweet sense throughout the album that binds it together and rewards the listener with repeated listens as their understanding deepens and the layers are peeled away.
Merrill Garbus (aka Tune-yards) is on board as producer and contributes a lot instrumentally and back with backing vocals throughout the album. There is a lot of similarities between Thao’s vocal delivery and sonic and stylistic choices when compared to Tune-yards back catalogue. The use of lo-fi and distorted fuzzy production and funky, tribal rhythms that have a hint of Afro be about them I just two similarities. However, these similarities don’t spoil a brilliant album and is like a more direct version of Tune-yards “Nikki Nack” that sometimes suffered from overstuffing every song with elements and thus could be a very overwhelming experience. Another useful reference point is that of Deerhoof who combine serrated indie/post-punk guitars with Afro beat rhythms and poppy vocal melodies and have a similarly lo-fi aesthetic.
The album opens with ‘Astonished Man’ with a down tempo beat and vocals opening the track, then heavy buzzing synth bass joins in and push the track forward. In the chorus there’s a cool hook played by what sounds like a badly tuned guitar. Everything is very raw and lo-fi in a good way and reminds me of Deerhoof. Though Thao can create a more complex melody. Continuing in a similar vein is ‘Departure’ with its opening minimal sound set just a drum machine some percussion and vocals but then we get stabs of guitar and a deep thick synth bass joining in. At points in the chorus vocals to become a little grating and recall that of Garbus’ wI personally I don’t have a problem with Garbus’ vocals but I understand how they can annoy some people. ‘Departure’ is also the track where the lyrical theme begins With the shouted line “Half of all my blood in vain,” standing out. ‘Guts’ with its down tempo sparse beats and organ the only things accompanying the vocals, continues the lyrical theme with Thao stridently declaring “I’ve got the guts/ I don’t need my blood.”.
Next up is ‘Fool forever’ which opens with a tightly wound guitar playing across fast skittering drums while the vocal moves steadily over the top. This then breaks down temporarily before the riff returns to be joined by another riff played on very distorted organ, the jittery feel of the track is amplified by these elements combining. The Ballard-like ‘Millionaire’ Recalls ‘Maps’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Thao playing the part of Karen O. That this time the word is not directed at a lover but her father, “Oh daddy, I broke in a million pieces/ That makes you a millionaire.” The song opens with a sparse guitar melody and held organ delayed chords backing an almost bare Thao. A bass drum keeps time far in the background. Around 20 seconds in with the guitar and organ making a musical change to play soaraway chords for Thao to sing a long reverberant melody over. This structure is repeated throughout.
‘Meticulous bird’ puts us back on the upbeat tip with driving drums kick in the track off. Screeching synths play, counter point to the vocals weaving in in and out of the verse and chorus. The track is little difficult to listen to at first but once you get used to it actually works very well. It also another example of contrasts of sweet and serrated views on this album.The album closes as it began with a down tempo track and also brings back the main lyrical theme on The album closes as it began with a down tempo track and also brings back the main lyrical theme on ‘Endless Love’ where Thao sings a simple melody (sample lyrics include “I’ve got an endless love/ no one can starve,” and the chorus'”I don’t want it/ I don’t want it/ Carve it on out of me.”) over a sparse bass line and beat its Garbus on backing vocals again. The track provides very mellow end to the album though this is offset by nasty fuzzy guitar solo wind its wonky way through the middle of the track.
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